I have often been asked as to whether cough is good or bad for the person. Cough is a reflex action to clear the airways from mucus and other trapped irritants (like dust ad smoke). In itself, it is distressing, both for the child and their parents and carers, but I consider them beneficial to the body as it helps clearing the chest. It is the cause behind this cough which worries me more. Although most coughs are not serious and self-resolving but serious illnesses may present with a cough. Therefore instead of suppressing the cough using various commercially available cough syrups, it is important to look for the cause behind this cough.
Cough can be ‘dry’ which means it is tickly and does not produce any phlegm (sputum). On the other hand, a cough may be ‘wet’ or ‘chesty’ which means phlegm is produced along with cough. Although overlap is common, the rule of thumb is that a wet cough is more to worry about.
Sometimes cough may be associated with a ‘wheeze’ or ‘whistling’ from the chest, on other occasions, the cough may have ‘barking’ nature to it.
The nature of cough, it’s onset, timing, frequency and characteristics, may be helpful to guess the underlying cause.
Most coughs clear up within three weeks and don't require any treatment. For more persistent coughs, it's a good idea to see your GP so they can investigate the cause.
Almost any problems relating to the nose, throat, voice box, the airways and the lungs themselves can cause a child to cough. Below, I list some common causes for cough.
Most coughs are trivial and caused by simple viral infections and get better by spontaneously. Mostly, such viral coughs take a week or two to get better.
Red flags that should alert you to take your child to be seen by the doctor include:
As I had said before, it is more important to treat the cause of cough rather than the cough itself. Mild, short-term coughs does not ned any treatment as they are likely to be due to a viral infection that will get better on its own within a few weeks. Taking rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may be helpful.
Medicines that claim to suppress cough or stop bringing up phlegm are not usually recommended. They may have other side effects. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommends that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines shouldn't be given to children under the age of six. Children aged 6 to 12 should only use them on the advice of a doctor or pharmacist.
A homemade remedy containing honey and lemon is likely to be just as useful and safer to take. Honey shouldn't be given to babies under the age of one because of the risk of infant botulism.
If a specific cause is identified, treating the underlying cause is very important and may help in earlier resolution of cough. For example, in asthma attacks, the cough would get better once inhalers to open the airways (bronchodilators) and steroids (to suppress the airway inflammation) are used.
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