A guide for parents and caregivers on cough

What is a cough?

A cough is a symptom of many different illnesses. Coughing is the body’s natural way of protecting the airway and lungs while removing irritants from the throat.

What you need to know

More often than not, a cough is a symptom of a virus such as the common cold or influenza. However, bacterial illnesses such as asthma, pneumonia, or allergies can cause coughing as well. 

A cough could also be caused by a foreign object such as a small toy that is caught in your child’s airway.

How you can help

If your child doesn’t need urgent medical attention, there are some things you can do at home to treat a cough.

  • Ibuprofen (for children over the age of 6 months) can improve cough symptoms

  • Run a cool-mist humidifier, especially at night

  • Take a steam shower with your child

  • Two teaspoons of honey (for children over the age of 1 year) before bedtime has been shown to alleviate cough symptoms while also aiding sleep

  • Propping your child up using extra pillows (for children over the age of 1 year)

You’ll also want to dress your child in cool clothing at bedtime. Overheating can increase or worsen a cough. 

When to contact your doctor

If you notice any of the following, it's a good indicator that you should reach out to contact your pediatrician or a same-day care provider.

  • If your child has inhaled a foreign object that is causing an airway blockage, go to the emergency room immediately.

  • Wheezing or noisy breathing could signify that your child isn’t getting enough air into their lungs. Schedule a same-day appointment to determine if your child requires medication to improve oxygen flow.

  • A barking cough should be addressed with a same-day visit. This type of cough is a telltale sign of croup, a viral illness that causes inflammation of the upper airways.

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