Handling Cough in Children - Asthma and Other Complications - Health Education - DesiMD Healthcare - India
Health Education

Handling Cough in Children

Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi profile Authored by Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi on 22 Jul 2014 - 12:46.


Cough in infants may be simple or turn serious depending on the severity and mode of onset plus various other parameters related to coughing.

The golden rule is to call for the doctor immediately if:

  • Your infant is less than 3 months old.
  • Coughing blood
  • In discomfort or displays a pain sensation in the chest.
  • In difficulty to breathe
  • A bluish discoloration is seen.

It is important to remember never to medicate your baby's cough with over-the-counter suppressants or expectorants, decongestants or antihistamines before consulting a doctor.

Having said this, it is essential for every mother to coolly assess what could be the reason for the baby's cough and what to do about it. There are many causes for coughing in an infant. Few of the important ones are as follows:

Colds and other viral infections: There are different viruses which can cause cough. The common virus that causes simple cold is called rhinoviruses. Respiratory sync vial virus (RSV) is a common virus affecting infants under one year old and usually attacks during winter and early summer.

If the child wheezes along with the cough, it is almost certain that the child has infection from RSV virus. Though RSV is not troublesome except causing cold, it is known for its notoriety to lead into serious illnesses such as pneumonia. It is therefore always better to consult a pediatrician to be on the safe side.

The Phlegmy Cough: Does your child’s cough sound like there is a lot of phlegm or mucous? Is the child suffering from a runny nose, a sore throat, watery eyes and lack of appetite? If these are the symptoms, it probably is the common cold, which may last for a week or two. Cold does not have specific medication as it is caused by virus. So antibiotics won’t work, however you must see a doctor if the child is suffering from fever along with a persistent green snot. This may sometime lead to sinus due to bacterial infection. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a child can get cold at an average of six to ten times a year.

Cough Remedies:To help ease the symptoms in case the child is too young to clear the nose, saline nose drops and a bulb syringe can help clear the nose reducing the tendency to cough. A cool-mist humidifier can give some temporary relief; also a warm bath may help. Inhaling some vapor rub on a towel can also be tried without rubbing directly on the skin, unless advised by doctor.  Do not give any over the counter drugs unless advised by doctor.

Croup: A deep cough that sounds like a bark is the warning sign that your child has Croup. It is caused by a virus that narrows the windpipe and causes the cough. Though it seems serious, it can be treated at home. However, it is advisable to call a doctor who will guide the mother about making arrangements for steam inhalation. The steam gives a soothing relief to the child. Also, the child can be taken to the cold night air. Both these methods should reduce the swelling in the throat and suppress the cough. The doctor may also prescribe steroid preparations if the edema in the throat is more discomforting.

In some bad cases the swelling in the throat may be so severe that the child finds it difficult to breath and his lips and skin may even turn blue. If this happens you must run to emergency medical center.

Allergies and Asthma: Any baby who is allergic to something in the environment will have a cold which never stops. He will have a stuffy or a running nose. When the child is sleeping the postnasal dripping of the mucous might trigger cough and the child experiences severe cough. Babies with asthma tend to cough more. If you think that the child has allergy or asthma, consult a doctor who may prescribe some bronchodilators and antihistamines.

Pneumonia: Most cases of pneumonia (infection in the lungs) first start as cold. If your baby has a cold that seems worsening with a persistent cough and difficulty in breathing coupled with fever and chills it is almost certain that the child could be heading for pneumonia a very dangerous disease. Call the doctor at once who will try to assess whether the pneumonia is due to virus or bacteria. He may even advice chest x-ray and laboratory tests and start antibiotics straight away. If due to viral infections he will advice bed rest and adequate liquids with some pain relievers. If the pneumonia is severe the child has to be hospitalized.

Sinusitis: Any child who has a cold and cough not relieved within ten days and pneumonia is ruled out, it is possible your child could be having sinusitis. In sinusitis which is a bacterial infection of the sinus cavities, there will be lingering cough because of the constant drain of mucous down the back of the throat. Antibiotics and exposure to steam gives relief and clears the sinuses. Once the sinuses are clear there will be a dramatic relief from coughing.

Foreign Bodies: If it happens that your child continues to cough without the presence of any associated signs of illness and there is no evidence for allergy, sinusitis or pneumonia, it is possible that the child may have something stuck in the throat or lungs. This scenario is often common among children who crawl and try to explore new things and in the process push anything and everything in their mouth. 

Sometimes the child may even inhale a food particle. In either case the child is taken to the hospital in an emergency condition, with the child literally struggling to breath. Such situations need emergency treatment with careful monitoring till relief. If an x-ray shows that there is a foreign body trapped in the lungs, it has to be removed surgically and it has to be done immediately.

Whooping Cough: With the advent of immunization schedules in almost all the children, whooping cough also known as pertusis has become a lot less common than what it was in the earlier days. In a typical case of whooping cough you will notice that the child will cough nonstop for well over 30 seconds and then struggle to breath in air with a long whoop before the next spell of coughing starts. The attempt which the child makes to draw in air between spells of cough results in a bird-like whooping sound. Whooping cough in children under one year of age is very dangerous. Therefore mothers should not waste a minute but call a doctor the moment they notice the typical whoop.

Cystic Fibrosis: A rare but dangerous congenital disorder where there will be accumulation of thick sticky mucous in the lungs and pancreas leading to obstructive lung pathology and digestive problems. Immediate doctor's attention is a must to rule out this dreaded but controllable disease.

*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.