What to look out for
Coughs are often regarded as the ‘watchdog’ of the lungs. It is better to cough up phlegm than to have it lodge lower in the lungs where it can cause serious infections like pneumonia. Coughing is part of your child’s natural immune defence system.Most coughs are caused by viral respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold, flu or bronchitis. Coughs often come with other symptoms like runny nose, fever, sore throat, ear ache and general aches and pains.
Children on average, get 6 to 7 viral infections per year and a cough is often one of the symptoms of these infections. Most will clear up by themselves and as long as your child is drinking plenty of fluids, eating a little, and in reasonably good form there is no need to worry. There are a few types of cough which you need to watch out for as they may be helped by medication. This is not an exhaustive list but should give you an idea of the many potential causes of cough in children.
Types of Coughs
Croup, which is a barking cough and causes hoarseness due to swelling of the vocal chords.
Bronchiolitis is the name often used to describe a cough and wheeze in a child under two years of age. Usually children are in good form but sounds terrible and are often known as ‘happy wheezers’. This can re-occur in children under two years of age.
Viral induced wheeze:
Viral induced wheeze – children often cough and wheeze for up to two weeks triggered by a viral infection. This does not mean they have asthma and while it can be irritating for them it is not serious. Your child will usually grow out of this tendency. Intermittent use of reliever inhalers, for example, Salbutamol or terbutaline, may be recommended by your doctor.
Allergic rhinitis / hay fever (summer):
Allergic rhinitis / hay fever (summer). Sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose, itchy eyes and tickly cough can be caused by irritation of the mucous membranes of the nose, sinuses and throat. In the winter this reaction is usually triggered by a viral infection and in the summer by pollens and grasses.
Bacterial infections/ Pneumonia:
Bacterial infections can cause more serious problems like pneumonia. If your child has pneumonia they will be quite unwell with a high fever, rapid breathing, listlessness or drowsiness and it is usually obvious that they need to see the doctor.
Inhalation of a foreign body like a piece of a child’s toy is also an uncommon but important one to watch for. Seek immediate medical help if the foreign body cannot be dislodged.
What can you do
If your child has a cough but is in reasonably good form and is drinking well then there is often no need to do anything other than to let your child’s immune defences fight the bug that is causing the cough.
Talk to your Pharmacist about over the counter medicines that may help. Paracetamol or ibuprofen will relieve pain or fever and children over 6 years of age can take over the counter cough remedies. Saline nose sprays or saline irrigation systems can help to clear the nasal passages. If you think your child’s symptoms are due to one of the other causes of cough listed above then you should have your child checked by your doctor as there may be some prescription medicines which will help.
Coughing spreads the germs that caused your child’s cough in the first place so it is important not to pass the illness on to others. This can be done by getting your child to cough into a tissue, binning the tissue immediately and washing your hands afterwards.
When to seek help
Most coughs in children can be treated at home. If you are worried about your child’s cough then you should have it checked by your doctor. If your child is very breathless or distressed by the cough, waking a lot during the night, not drinking, seems very wheezy or unable to catch their breath they should be checked out by your doctor.
Most coughs will clear up within two weeks but may last three weeks. If your child’s cough lasts more than three weeks you should see your doctor.
If your child has known asthma or any other chronic lung condition or are immuno- compromised you should get your child’s cough checked out by your doctor
For more information on coughs visit the HSE website by clicking here.
As you can probably guess, this website can’t ever replace the advice you might get from a health professional. While we aim to give you the best advice we can, if you are at all worried about yourself or your child, please call or visit your GP or your Pharmacist.
We hope you feel better soon!