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Coughing protects the lungs against infections
Basically all healthy children who catch a cold, have a cough. This is good. It’s an important part of the body’s protection against infections. Coughing up mucus and viruses that enter the lungs, protects it against pneumonia. At the children’s hospital, we notice that children with severe brain damage and mobility impairments, who do not have a functioning cough reflex, often get pneumonia after having a cold for a few days. They can’t clear the colds themselves, partly because they can’t cough. In the hospital, they must be given antibiotics, oxygen and respiratory aid. There are even special cough machines used to help these children with “artificial coughing” when they get sick.
So be grateful that your child can cough!
Prolonged coughing may be intrinsic asthma
A cough often sits for up to three weeks after each cold. Prolonged coughing periods that sit for longer than three weeks, and interfere with sleep, can be signs of asthma.
Cough medicine is unsafe in children
Some of our most common cough medicines contain morphine. The morphine works by calming the child and blocking the cough reflex. They are not shown to be effective in any scientific studies. In addition, I am very much opposed to giving morphine mixtures to babies or children. In a previous post, I have reviewed all cough medicines in Sweden, what they contain and investigated if they work.
Honey – best home remedy for coughs
Unlike cough medicines, however, household honey now has scientific support. In a study, 10 ml of honey before bedtime had a better effect on children’s and parents’ sleep, and the parents’ experience of how much the child coughed, compared to date syrup. There was no difference between the different kinds of honey. However, honey should not be used in infants under one year of age because of the risk of contamination of botulinum toxin-producing bacterial spores. Honey does not always incapacitate infants but in unfortunate cases, it can cause serious illness in infants.
Honey from the pantry has an effect against dry cough in children unlike the drugs we have access to! Stay at home with your child, cuddle in bed and give the child a couple of teaspoons of honey before bedtime.
Cough and difficulty breathing
Children who have a cough and have difficulty breathing need to visit the pediatric emergency room. This is usually a more severe case of intrinsic asthma that needs to be treated with inhalations.
Barking cough and wheezing may be croup
If your child is experiencing a barking cough and hissing upon inhalation, it could be croup. Seek the children’s emergency room for treatment.
Watch out for whooping cough in infants
Whooping cough is a disease that produces severe, long-term coughing attacks. For unvaccinated infants (under three months of age), whopping cough (or pertussis) can be fatal. If you, as a parent, have a long-term cough and an infant, test yourself for whooping cough.
A child under three months of age, with increasingly intense coughing attacks, should also be examined for whooping cough. It’s best if you receive antibiotic treatment early in the course of the disease. It’s better to seek medical help before you hear the typical ‘whoop’ (screeching car sounds upon inhalation at the end of a coughing attack). Certainly, as soon as you hear it, seek emergency assistance.
Pneumonia – cough and high fever
Persistent cough with concomitant high fever (over 38.5C or 101.3F), general malaise and loss of appetite may be signs of pneumonia. Seek a health center for children over one year old or the children’s emergency room for infants under one. Children with these signs, are slumped, have bluish skin or struggle physically with each breath, should visit the pediatric emergency room regardless of age.
When is it better not to seek emergency with cough in children?
The vast majority of children experiencing coughs, feel best being at home with their parents or another adult the child knows well. Do cozy activities that the child and yourself enjoy. Turn it into a “luxurious” day/ night in. Sit on the sofa under one blanket or drink hot chocolate and read a favorite book. Watch a new movie together, sing songs, draw or play a computer game together. And have a bit of honey in the evening if you want. When the cold has subsided and there is only a cough left, and the child is alert and happy, the child can go back to school or preschool.