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First Aid: Coughing

First Aid

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

Think Prevention!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014