First Aid: Coughing
Coughing is a healthy reflex that helps clear the airways. A severe or lingering cough requires medical treatment, but many coughs are caused by viruses that just need to run their course.
What to Do
- If your child develops a “barky” or “croupy” cough, sit in a steamy bathroom together for about 20 minutes.
- Offer plenty of fluids (breast milk or formula for babies; cool water and juice for older kids). Avoid carbonated or citrus drinks that may irritate a raw throat.
- Run a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom.
- Use saline (saltwater) nose drops to relieve congestion.
- Never give cough drops (a choking hazard) to young kids or cough or cold medicine to kids under 2 years of age (consult a doctor first for older kids).
Seek Medical Care
If Your Child:
- has severe cough spasms or attacks, wheezing, or stridor (an almost-musical sound when inhaling)
- has a cough that lasts 3 weeks, gets worse, happens the same time every year, or seems caused by something specific (such as pollen, dust, pets, etc.)
- has a persistent fever
- is younger than 3 months old and has fever with the cough
- is breathing fast or working hard to breathe
- has a blue or dusky color in the lips, face, or tongue during or after coughing
- Follow the doctor’s treatment plan if your child has asthma or allergies.
- Avoid anyone who smokes or has a cold.
- Make sure your child gets the diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine or combination booster (Tdap) on time.
- Wash hands well and often.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014