Acting as an important reflex to protect your child's airway, there exist many reasons why your child may cough. Some of those reasons addressed elsewhere include the signature seal bark-like cough of croup, the whistling type of cough of wheezing, or just the typical cough you might hear with the common cold.

However, other reasons for your child's cough include allergies, allergic rhinitis — where the cough develops from post-nasal drip; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — somewhat of an insidious presentation as there may not be any other presenting symptoms, sinus infections — colds that linger for at least two weeks (if not longer) and often worsen as the nasal cavity becomes filled with mucous; and even pertussis (whooping cough) — where the child will have coughing spells that end with the classic "whoop,” often having its greatest impact on infants. But fortunately, we have a pertussis vaccine that begins at 2 months of age as part of the DTaP vaccine (which also includes diphtheria and tetanus). In fact, there now exists a pertussis booster vaccine for both adolescents and adults.

Most coughs worsen during the night, particularly related to the horizontal position your child sleeps in, but other coughs may be worse during the day as the climate or physical activity your child encounters may have a negative impact (e.g. cold air or exercise-induced asthma or wheezing).

And while some coughs do not require immediate attention, please come in to see us if any of the following occur:

  • Difficulty breathing or working harder than normal
  • Any shortness of breath or stridor ("harmonical" breath sound upon inspiration)
  • The cough is associated with a high fever.
  • Any change in color (typically blue) around the mouth
  • Any blood noticed with the cough
  • If wheezing is noted and no asthma care plan already exists with your physician.
  • The classic "whoop" of pertussis is noted
  • Any infant who has been coughing for a prolonged period

So what can you do at home to help your child with a cough?

  • If your child has asthma, initiate the care plan as previously discussed with your pediatrician. If no plan is in place, come in for an immediate evaluation.
  • As mentioned in the croup section, if the seal bark-like cough begins, bring your child into the bathroom after the steam from a hot shower encases the room. The steam will help your child relax. If no improvement is seen, have your child be seen for an immediate evaluation.
  • Purchase a cool-mist humidifier for your child's room. The moisture can often be very helpful.
  • Keep your child well hydrated and maintain good rest.
  • Use saline nasal sprays to deal with some of the nasal congestion.
  • And as there is some research supportive of the use of honey prior to bedtime in children 2 years and older, a trial of 2 teaspoons of honey with the caveat of never giving honey to children less than 1 year of age; secondary to the risk of infantile botulism.

And don't forget the most recent recommendations regarding over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications that state they should not be used for children less than 4 years of age; secondary to no real data supporting its effectiveness and the concern of overdosing.