Isn’t it amazing how many tissues and bowls of soup your family can go through in one season? Don’t assume, though, that your child’s cough is simply a cold it might be something more serious. Here’s when to worry and what to do.
What’s probably causing it: Croup, a viral illness that causes inflammation in the larynx (voice box) and the trachea (windpipe). It’s most common between October and March, and it usually affects children ages 6 months to 3 years. The telltale cough usually gets better during the day but returns for two more nights. He may also make a high-pitched whistling sound (called stridor) when he inhales. Some kids tend to get croup every time they have a cold.
How to help: When your child wakes up barking, bundle him up and go outside — cold air often helps relax the airways. Or turn on a hot shower and sit with your child in the steamy bathroom for 15 to 20 minutes, since the warm, moist air also may help him breathe, says Parents advisor Jennifer Shu, M.D., editor of The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Baby and Child Health. Call 911 if your child is truly having trouble breathing or if he has stridor that gets worse with each breath or lasts for more than five minutes. Between attacks, use a cool-mist humidifier in his room, and make sure he drinks plenty of liquids. Although croup usually resolves on its own, always call your doctor when you suspect it. Recent research has found that one dose of oral steroids — which doctors used to prescribe only for severe croup — may also be helpful for milder cases.
The Phlegmy Cough
Your child’s cough sounds mucousy, and she also has a runny nose, a sore throat, watery eyes, and a poor appetite.
What’s probably causing it: A common cold, which can last for one to two weeks — although it’s at its worst (and most contagious) in the first few days. Children get an average of six to ten colds a year, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, so you can expect more than a few this winter.
How to help: Since colds are caused by viruses, antibiotics won’t help — don’t even ask your pediatrician to prescribe one. (However, do call your doctor if your child has persistent green snot and a fever, because she may have developed a bacterial sinus infection.) If your child is too young to blow her nose, use saline nose drops and a bulb syringe to help clear the mucus and make her less likely to cough. Using a cool-mist humidifier and giving her a warm bath can also help. You may want to let your child inhale some vapor rub on a towel, but don’t put the rub directly on her skin unless your doctor advises it. Also check with your doctor before giving your child any over-the-counter medicines, and ask when she’ll be old enough to suck on cough drops.
The Dry, Nighttime Cough
Your child has had an annoying cough off and on all winter long. It gets worse every night and any time he runs around.
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