Effective Tips for Parents for Easing Your Child’s Cough

A mother treating her sick child who is struggling with cold symptoms and a cough.

Coughing is a normal part of how a healthy body functions, but hearing your child struggling with a cough can still be stressful. It can also be tough to know when your child has a passing cough or when it’s turned into a chronic cough. Learn more about the process of coughing and how to help your child through it.

What Purpose Does Coughing Serve?

Coughing is a natural reflex that removes irritants from the upper and lower airways, which include the throat and lungs. It helps the body protect itself by clearing out excessive mucus and protecting the lungs from pneumonia.

Typically, in children, coughing means they have a cold and doesn’t indicate anything more severe.

What about the sounds that you hear when your child coughs? These sounds come from the vibrations of mucus pooling in the throat or the nose. Keep in mind that a wheezing or barking cough isn’t normal and requires a visit to the pediatrician.

There are many types of coughs. Acute coughs begin suddenly and last two to three weeks, while chronic coughs last longer than eight weeks.

A barking cough can be a sign of croup, while a wheezing one occurs when your child has a blocked airway and is associated with infections or chronic conditions like asthma.

A whooping cough is pertussis, which is an infection that causes coughing with a whooping sound.

When dealing with a cold or other infection, coughing indicates that the condition is improving. Your child is coughing up the damaged cells, though not every child will be able to cough deeply enough to produce mucus. In those cases, the child will swallow the mucus.

As the mucus comes up, the cough will be wetter and deeper, so it’s important to ensure that your child is improving. If they are, the change in the cough’s sound isn’t a cause for alarm. Green and yellow phlegm is normal, as well. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a bacterial infection at play.

How to Help Your Child Manage a Cough

A cough tends to linger after the condition that caused it clears up, but you can make the process a bit easier for your child. Certain strategies can impact how long the cough remains.

Soothe Sore Throats

Many times, a cough goes along with a sore throat. You can help manage both of these issues by steaming up the bathroom with your shower. Alternatively, you can also turn to a cool mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom. This brings moisture to the airways and coats the irritated passages.

Dry indoor air can further irritate the airways, so using a cool mist humidifier while they sleep makes breathing easier and can help turn an unproductive cough, which doesn’t bring up mucus, into a productive one.

Encourage Rest

Active play can trigger even more coughing, so it’s vital to keep your child calm and encourage them to rest. Getting them to rest also helps the immune system work more efficiently, aiding in managing the condition that caused the problem.

Turn to Warm Fluids

For children who are at least 12 months old, offering warm fluids like warmed-up apple juice, decaffeinated tea, and milk can all help soothe the throat and loosen up mucus so that they can cough it out.

Add honey to tea, which can help soothe an irritated throat, decreasing some of the inflammation. Don’t give honey to children under 12 months of age.

Use Topical Rubs

The inhaled vapors of certain medicated essential oils can also help soothe the airways. Choose options with menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus. This is a good option for children who are two or older, especially to help them sleep. Apply the topical rub to the chest or neck.

Use Saline Drops

Saltwater helps mucus break down so that your child can cough it out. You can make saline drops by mixing half a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water.

For children who are over one year of age, you can apply two or three drops per nostril. For those under 12 months, use only one drop per nostril. To get the best results, repeat this at least four times a day.

Treating a Chronic Cough

If the cough has continued for eight weeks or more, it’s a chronic cough and requires understanding what’s causing it before being able to manage it.

Bacterial infections can be a cause. Bacterial bronchitis and sinusitis are common culprits, though even viral infections that appear back-to-back can also cause coughs that last for more than a month.

Asthma is another reason a child may develop a chronic cough. Exposure to irritants like smoke or the fumes of household chemicals can also cause coughing. Even acid reflux can lead to a chronic cough in children.

If the cause of the chronic cough is an irritant, the best option is to get rid of it or reduce the child’s exposure to it as much as possible. Antihistamines can be helpful for children with chronic coughs resulting from allergies.

Asthma medications like inhaled steroids help control airway inflammation, while bronchodilators help relax the breathing system to allow air to flow more easily.

Cough suppressants aren’t a good choice for most children because they only stop the symptoms without addressing their cause.

Getting Help at Newport Children’s Medical Group

If your child has a chronic cough that doesn’t seem to improve, they’re struggling to breathe, or they’re coughing up blood, turn to experts to get a clear diagnosis and begin the most appropriate treatments.

At Newport Children’s Medical Group, we’re here to help. We can provide the answers you need to help your child through this tough time. Our dedicated staff will offer compassionate care. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with a pediatric pulmonologist.