Read here for MomDoc Dr Chantelle van der Bijl’s insights into kids’ coughs, and look on the next page on the best places to seek medical help.
Coughing is a healthy and important reflex, as it removes mucous and lets air flow more easily into the lungs. A cough can often get worse when a child is lying down, because the
mucous can collect at the back of the throat. They tend to swallow the mucous, rather than spit it out as an adult would, which can cause an upset stomach or nausea.
There are four types of cough: dry, wet, croup, and whooping cough. It is important to know what type of cough your child has, so as to know how to treat it or when to seek medical help.
A dry cough is often caused by a viral or bacterial infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat). It may also be an early sign of a lower respiratory tract infection, like bronchitis or pneumonia. Another cause might be asthma. It first appears as a dry nighttime cough, and wheezing (whistling) may be heard with breathing. Avoid irritants, allow the child to breathe cold air and avoid exercise.
A wet cough is caused by mucous found in the lower respiratory tract. Common causes include viral or bacterial infections and asthma. The cough removes fluid from the lower
respiratory tract and opens airways.
Croup is a viral infection that causes a harsh, barking, dry cough. Croup causes a swollen upper trachea (windpipe), beneath the vocal cords, causing the barking cough. Often a child with croup may make a high-pitched sound when breathing in or out, called stridor.
This is treatable with oral steroids and adrenalin nebulisation administered by your doctor.
Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
A child with Pertussis will have symptoms of the common cold, but gradually the cough worsens, with severe coughing fits in rapid succession, especially at night. After coughing, the child takes a deep breath, causing a “whooping” sound. This causes difficulty breathing and cyanosis (blue lips and/or fingers), because of a shortage of oxygen, and can prove fatal. Pertussis can be prevented by vaccination.
Beat the cough
General recommendations for coughing include: drinking plenty of fluids, as this will prevent the mucous from thickening, and putting a humidifier in their room as it reduces coughing. Cough medicines have not been proven to be that effective. There are two types of cough medicines: Expectorants, which help loosen mucous and is good for a wet cough;
and cough-suppressants, which inhibit the cough reflex for a dry cough, especially during sleep. Do not give it for a wet cough as the mucous needs to be expelled. They shouldn’t be given to children under 1 year of age.
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