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Brief Version

What is a cough?

A cough is a common symptom of illness. A cough helps gets infected fluid out of the lungs. Your child may have a dry cough or a wet cough. A wet cough is when your child coughs up mucus.

What causes a cough?

Most coughs are caused by a viral infection of the trachea (windpipe) or bronchi (larger air passages in the lungs). Many long lasting coughs are caused by asthma or allergies.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Medicines to loosen the cough and thin the secretions.
    • Cough drops: Children over 4 years old can usually control coughing by sucking on cough drops or hard candy.
    • Homemade cough syrup: For children 1 to 4 years old, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of corn syrup instead of cough drops.
    • Warm liquids for coughing: Warm liquids such as warm lemonade, warm apple juice, or warm herbal tea usually relax the airway and loosen up the mucus. (Avoid this if your child is less than 4 months old.)
  • Cough-suppressant medicines.

    Dextromethorphan (DM) is a cough-suppressant. Do not give this medicine to your child. Coughing helps protect the lungs by clearing out germs.

  • Humidifiers in the treatment of cough. Dry air tends to make coughs worse. Use a humidifier.
  • Active and passive smoking. Don't let anyone smoke around your coughing child. The cough could last weeks longer with smoke exposure.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing AND is not better after you clear the nose.
  • Breathing becomes fast or difficult when not coughing.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • A fever lasts more than 3 days.
  • The cough lasts more than 3 weeks.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-10-03
Last reviewed: 2006-02-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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