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Coughing in Children

A doctor discusses the causes of coughing in children and how to best treat them.

Wed, 22 Aug 2012|

Children cough when the lining of their windpipe becomes irritated. That often happens when a child is sick or when the body is trying to fight off an illness and makes lots of mucous or phlegm. This means coughing can be good because it helps your child breath by removing this extra mucous to let air flow more easily through the windpipe and into the lungs. Here is what you really have to know about coughing and what to do about it. First, there is another important reason for coughing. Something is stuck in the child's throat or windpipe. This can be very serious and needs immediate attention. If your child suddenly starts coughing and seems to have real trouble breathing or starts grabbing their throat, it may mean there is a small object or a piece of hard food such as a peanut stuck in the windpipe. If you suspect this, have someone call 911 immediately. Then, in children over the age of 1 year, you should perform the Heimlich maneuver. Click on the link to see how to do this. In babies, you will instead perform back blows and chest thrusts. Click on the link to see how to do this. If your child ever has other serious symptoms along with the cough, you should call 911 at once. Some of these symptoms include cough that is accompanied by trouble breathing not due to a stuffed nose or the child loses consciousness, passes out, coughs up a lot of blood, has a seizure or starts to turn blue around the lips, mouth or fingernails. If your child is under month old and is coughing, call the doctor right away. There has to be a reason why an infant this young is coughing. Okay. Now, you can calm down a bit. Luckily, most coughing won't be an emergency at all. But it still can be a sign of illness. It is important to know what type of cough your child has and what it might mean. There are, generally, 4 different types of cough- a dry cough, a wet cough, a croupy cough and a pertussis or whooping cough. Listen to the different types of coughs by clicking on the links and compare them with your child's cough. If one of them sounds like your child, click on the What It Means link for that particular cough. It will give you more information about what could be causing the cough and what to do about it. There are a couple of other things you should know about coughs. Coughing is often worse in the evening or during the day with naps, especially when the child is lying in bed. That's because mucous may collect in the back of the throat. Also, children tend to swallow the mucous rather than spit it out as most adults do. Swallowing it can cause the child to have an upset stomach or to vomit mucous especially when they have a coughing fit. To understand how to treat various types of coughs, click on the link called Home Treatment. One thing you should always do is give your child plenty of fluids to drink. And if you're not sure or need to know more, don't hesitate to call your doctor's office.