Before beginning, we need to define what exactly is coughing. In both adults and children, it is a mechanism of the respiratory system. It’s main purpose is to expel from the body mucus, phlegm and any other foreign objects that might be lodged in the nose or the smaller bronchus. By coughing, it improves airflow and decreases the risk of complications caused from mucus and phlegm, including bacterial infections.
But it is necessary to distinguish the difference between an acute cough and a chronic cough. An acute cough is often referred to a cough that does not last longer than three weeks.
What are the causes?
A cough in itself is an unspecific symptom, this means, that alone it cannot be used to diagnose an illness and more than one illness can be associated with coughing. Here are some reasons behind coughing:
– The majority of the symptoms from an acute cough are due to upper respiratory infections (nose, throat, ears and larynx) such as colds and flus.
– Cough also is common with lower respiratory infections (lungs) such as pneumonia, bronchitis, bronchiolitis or a bad cold.
– Cough isn’t only produced by infections. Allergies, such as in the case of rhinitis or asthma often cause coughing.
– Choking on a foreign object (as a piece of dry fruit) will cause coughing, as the body’s response in eliminating the object.
– Chronic lung damage, tumors or vascular deformities can also cause chronic cough.
When a child has a cough, often there isn’t a reason to be concerned, as long as we know how to suppress it in time. Coughing can interrupt sleep and rest and this will obligate you to make your child to have frequent naps to make up on last sleep.
Coughing can also provoke vomiting, especially in smaller children who haven’t learned to spit out the phlegm. In this case, the phlegm and mucus produced from coughing are swallowed and then expelled from the stomach by vomiting. However the phlegm or mucus is expelled, coughing has fulfilled the purpose of cleaning the secretions from the respiratory systems.
Coughing is a mechanism of the respiratory system and it isn’t always wise to eliminate it. Stopping the cough prematurely during a respiratory infection with mucus and phlegm is like having a snotty nose and not blowing your nose.
Whatever is the cause, we should avoid using any types of cough syrup for self-medicating or for non-medical reasons. There are very few situations that require the use of cough medicine to stop coughing. Before using any medicines, talk to your pediatrician about antitussive, used to prevent the cough and only using the indicated dose and only if prescribed by your doctor.
Cough syrup medicines haven’t proved to be efficient and are associated with serious health problems such as heart alterations, agitation, hallucinogen or difficulty breathing. For this reason, many countries have decided to prohibit the over the counter purchases of cough syrups for children under the age of six. Also, comparison studies have shown that cough medicines have the same effect as honey or another type of placebo, this is because improving a bad cough takes time just like getting over the common cold. Beware that just because cough syrup is easily accessible at a drug store, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have risks or side effects.
A child’s cough should not be treated with mucolytic, antihistamines or nasal decongestants.
Here are some useful suggestions that you can do when your child can’t stop coughing:
– The most important thing you can do is help the cough, which can be done by making sure your children are in a smoke-free environment in the house. Do not allow anyone to smoke in the house.
– Hydration is also very important. Coughing will eliminate the phlegm and mucus faster when the body is well hydrated. For this reason, it is fundamental that your young child drinks plenty of liquids and the air is humid in the house. Vapor or steam baths will help to make the phlegm and mucus softer and easier to expel.
-When making steam baths, make sure the child is unable to have contact with the hot water, as it could cause burns. For this reason, it recommendable to have a steam bath in the bathroom, by running hot water in the shower and the child sits in the bathroom and just breathes in the vapor. Never use water or washbasin full of boiling water.
– Humidifiers are a great solution, that is, if there isn’t anyone in the house that has allergies, as humidity increases dust mites and more allergies.
– Another option is nasal washes with physiological solution, which will help to remove mucus from the nose.
Last but not least, if you are concerned about your child’s cough and don’t know what to do, do not hesitate to contact your pediatrician.