Decode Your Child’s Cough
How to recognize seven major illnesses
Cough Clues: A mildly hoarse, throaty cough that comes in frequent spells and can be either wet or dry.
Other Symptoms: Your child feels listless and complains that his throat is scratchy and sore, his head hurts, and the muscles in his back and legs ache. He may also have a runny nose, fever, and nausea.
Likely Culprit: The flu, a viral respiratory illness that’s most common from November through April.
What to Do: Call the doctor if your child has a fever above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, is throwing up, has diarrhea, or is uninterested in eating or drinking (your doctor will recommend steps to prevent dehydration). Give your child plenty of fluids and use a humidifier to alleviate congestion in his airways. Also, to ward off future bouts of the flu, ask your pediatrician about getting your child an annual flu shot; experts recommend the vaccine particularly for babies six to 23 months, as this age range is most susceptible to complications associated with the flu.
Cough Clues: A wheezy, crackly, persistent cough after your child eats. Coughing episodes typically worsen when she’s lying down.
Other Symptoms: She may feel a burning sensation or may vomit or belch when swallowing. A baby might be fussy or have been labeled as colicky. Toddlers may develop wheezing and picky eating habits.
Likely Culprit: GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), caused by a weak or immature band of muscle between the esophagus and stomach that allows acid to flow back up. Sometimes the irritating juices can enter the lungs, causing a chronic cough.
What to Do: Have your child see the pediatrician if her wheezy cough lasts longer than two weeks. He may recommend keeping a baby upright for at least 30 minutes after feedings and for babies and older children, elevating the head of their mattress while they sleep. With older children, he may also suggest < ahref="http://www.babyzone.com/baby_toddler_preschooler_health/illness_disease/article/gerd">avoiding foods and beverages that cause symptoms, such as caffeinated sodas, chocolate, peppermint, spicy foods like pizza, acidic foods like orange and tomatoes, and fried and fatty foods, and not eating within two hours of bedtime. Prescription medicine can also control GERD symptoms.
Other Symptoms: Before the cough starts, your child has a week of cold-like symptoms but no fever. In infants, the illness can be severe and cause mucous to bubble from the nostrils. It can also lead to convulsions and make a baby stop breathing if he gets tired.
Likely Culprit: Whooping cough (also known as pertussis), a highly contagious bacterial infection of the throat, windpipe, and lungs. Children who haven’t received their immunizations are most vulnerable. (Babies routinely get their shots at two, four, and six months; additional boosters between 12 and 18 months; and then again between four and six years. Immunity wanes as we get older. Therefore, adults may carry pertussis but get only a mild cough.)
What to Do: Call the doctor if your child’s cough worsens instead of improves after a week. Babies usually need to be hospitalized to control the cough and have mucous suctioned from their throat. The illness is treated with antibiotics, though the cough can last for many weeks or even months.
Cough Facts Every Parent Should Know
Cough Suppressants: If your child’s cough is keeping him up at night, a suppressant may help him sleep. Ask your pediatrician for a recommendation. However, you should know that inhibiting a cough, especially if your child has a mucousy, lower-respiratory cough, can actually exacerbate or prolong the illness, says Dr. Shubin.
Expectorants: They’re meant to loosen mucous, but studies show they’re not very helpful. “Water is a good expectorant,” Dr. Shubin says.
Multisymptom Cold Relievers: Because these formulas contain more than one drug, be sure to read labels carefully. Your child may suffer side effects such as sleeplessness (common with antihistamines) or irritability (typical of decongestants), says Dr. Meredith Messinger, MD, an attending physician at Long Island College Hospital, in Brooklyn, New York.
Throat Lozenges: Cough drops increase saliva production, which can soothe your child’s throat and loosen his cough. But don’t give them to children under the age of four, Dr. Shubin says. Like any hard candies, lozenges pose a choking hazard.
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