Dr. Alan Greene on Medications for a Cough

Is Albuterol appropriate for treating a cough?


My daughter has a serious cough and some rattling in her lungs. There was no pneumonia, but the doctor prescribed liquid Albuterol. Isn't that a drug used to treat asthma?


The rattling in the lung could come from extra secretions from the infection itself, or maybe he was describing some wheezing from narrowing of the airways, either from swelling or from tightening of the muscles around the breathing tubes. Albuterol is a smooth muscle relaxant that can open up the airways. It is used both for asthma and for wheezing from other causes. It doesn't help kids to get over the illness any faster, but it does help if kids are having difficulty breathing. It is also a bit like caffeine, so many kids are kept awake or are more active when they are on it.

When Albuterol is needed, I favor the inhalers over the liquid -- less gets in the body, but more gets to where it is needed. Albuterol liquid takes longer to act than the inhaler. With the inhaler it works right away. You should start the liquid sooner if things begin to get worse.


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