Chances are, your child will get a cough this year. In fact, coughs are one of the most common reasons that children see a doctor. To make sure your child gets better and not worse, you must be knowledgeable and prepared. It’s important to know what to do, what not to do and when to get medical care.

Why Is My Child Coughing? The cough reflex serves a purpose—it helps clear the throat and airways of mucous, irritations or other substances. There are two types of coughs: acute and chronic. An acute cough comes on suddenly. Viruses, such as the common cold and flu, can cause this type of cough. Other causes are croup and pneumonia. A chronic cough is one that doesn’t go away, even after several weeks. Some problems that cause this type of cough are allergies, asthma, postnasal drip or reflux. Whooping cough begins as an acute cough, then becomes chronic.

What Should I Do? When your child has a cough, there are some things that you can do to make your child more comfortable. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests the following.

Do this:

• Make sure your child drinks plenty of liquids. You also may want to offer warm soups, such as chicken soup.

• If your child is young, try using saline nasal spray with a simple bulb and syringe to clear a stuffy nose.

• Use a cool mist vaporizer, which may help loosen congestion.

• If your child has aches and pains, ask your pediatrician about giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Don’t do this:

• Don’t give over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines to children younger than 4 years old. These products can have serious side effects, cautions AAP. Be really careful about giving cough and cold medicines to children older than 4 years old. Many products contain several ingredients. Giving two products that have the same ingredient can cause an accidental overdose. See the sidebar “Use Caution When Giving OTC Cough and Cold Medicines.”

Use Caution When Giving OTC Cough and Cold Medicines Before giving any OTC cough or cold medicines to a child, the FDA advises parents to do the following:

• Check to see what the “active ingredients” are.

• Be very careful when giving more than one OTC cough and cold medicine to a child. If you use two medicines that have the same or similar “active ingredients,” a child could get too much of an ingredient. This can cause serious injury or even death.

• Carefully follow the directions on how to give the medicine. • Only use the measuring spoons or cups that come with the medicine or those made specially for measuring medicines.

• Choose OTC cough and cold medicines with childproof safety caps when available. Always store medicines out of reach of children.

• Understand that OTC cough and cold medicines do not cure or shorten the duration of the common cold.

• Don’t use these products to sedate a child or make children sleepy.

Sourde: US Food and Drug Administration.

Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer in Austin

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