Inside a Kid’s Cough (and when to call the doctor)

Any parent can relate to hearing those first few coughs escaping from their children and immediately going into diagnostician mode: Does this cough sound like something a little bit of cough syrup can take care of? Will sitting outside a steamy shower do the trick? Or do I need to call the doctor?

kids cough 300x198 Inside a Kids Cough (and when to call the doctor) Photo

Will cough syrup do the trick for your child’s cough?

The prospect of underestimating your child’s ailment and delaying treatment for something serious is a scary one, but at the same time, do you really need to run to the doctor’s office at the first sign of a cough?

By paying attention to the particular traits of your child’s cough, you can gain some insight into what might be causing it, and what course of action to take next.

Cold or Flu?
If accompanied by fever, chills, muscle pain, and vomiting, your child’s cough may be due to the influenza virus. If your child doesn’t have any symptoms other than a mild to moderate cough, it may just be a cold. Sleeping with a humidifier at night, or sitting outside a steamy shower can help to alleviate the coughing.

Croup or Whooping Cough?
Croup is caused by a viral infection, while whooping cough is bacterial. But both are very distinct sounding coughs. Croup sounds like barking and may also include a sound when your child breathes in called “stridor,” which sounds much worse than it actually is. Croup can be treated the same way the cough associated with cold or flu is – with a humidifier, breathing in the steam outside a hot shower, or even breathing in cool air from the freezer or outdoors.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is typically more severe and is marked by rapid coughing fits and a whooping-type noise when your child breathes in. While you may use the typical at-home remedies to soothe this cough, you must also consult with your pediatrician if you suspect your child has whooping cough. It’s important to make sure her vaccines are up-to-date, and to start antibiotics to treat it.

Pneumonia or Asthma?

If your child’s cough is accompanied by flu-like symptoms, like vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain, as well as rapid or labored breathing and the wet sound of phlegm, it could be pneumonia – an either viral or bacterial infection of the lungs. Your child’s doctor should be contacted immediately to make this diagnosis and begin treatment, which could require hospitalization in severe cases.

If your child only coughs while exercising or at night, or if his cough is accompanied by a wheezing noise while breathing, he could have asthma. The pediatrician can test your child’s lung function to determine if this is the case. Treatment will depend on the severity of your child’s asthma, and can either consist of daily medications, or a medication taken when necessary.

No matter what, if your child is having trouble breathing, seek emergency care immediately.

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