Coughing is an important way to keep your throat and airways clear. However, excessive coughing may mean you have an underlying disease or disorder.
Some coughs are dry, while others are considered productive. A productive cough is one that brings up mucus. Mucus is also called phlegm or sputum.
Coughs can be either acute or chronic:
- Acute coughs usually begin suddenly and are often due to a cold, flu, or sinus infection. They usually go away after 3 weeks.
- Subacute coughs last 3 to 8 weeks.
- Chronic coughs last longer than 8 weeks.
Besides recent upper airways infections, such as the common cold and flu, other common causes of coughs include:
- Allergies and asthma
- Lung infections such as pneumonia or acute bronchitis
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema or chronic bronchitis)
- Sinusitis leading to postnasal drip
- Lung disease such as bronchiectasis, interstitial lung disease, or tumors
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Cigarette smoking
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Exposure to air pollutants
- ACE inhibitors (medications used to control blood pressure)
Although coughing can be a troubling symptom, it is usually your body's way of healing. Here are some tips to help ease your cough:
NOTE: Medical experts have recommended against using cough and cold drugs in children under age 6. Talk to your doctor before your child takes any type of over-the-counter cough medicine, even if it is labeled for children. These medicines likely will not work for children, and they may have serious side effects.
- If you have a dry, tickling cough, try cough drops or hard candy. NEVER give these to a child under age 3, because they can cause choking.
- Use a vaporizer or take a steamy shower. Both these things increase the moisture in the air and can help soothe a dry throat.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Liquids help thin the mucus in your throat and make it easier to cough it up.
Medications available without a prescription include:
- Guaifenesin helps break up mucus. Drink lots of fluids if you take this medicine.
- Decongestants help clear a runny nose and relieve postnasal drip. Do NOT give children under age 6 an over-the-counter decongestant unless specifically told to do so by your doctor. You should check with your doctor before taking decongestants if you have high blood pressure.
The physical examination will include emphasis on the ears, nose, throat, and chest.
Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
- Lung scan
- Pulmonary function tests
- Sputum analysis (if the cough produces sputum)
- X-ray of the chest
- Don't smoke and stay away from secondhand smoke.
- If you have seasonal allergies like hay fever, stay indoors during days when airborne allergens are high. If possible, keep the windows closed and use an air conditioner. Avoid fans that draw in air from outdoors. Shower and change your clothes after being outside.
- If you have allergies year round, cover your pillows and mattress with dust mite covers, use an air purifier, and avoid pets and other triggers.
Call your doctor immediately if you have
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Hives or swollen face or throat with difficulty swallowing
- Violent cough that begins suddenly
- High-pitched sound (called stridor) when inhaling
- Cough that produces blood
- Fever (may indicate a bacterial infection requiring antibiotics)
- Thick, foul-smelling, yellowish-green phlegm (may indicate a bacterial infection)
- A history of heart disease, swelling in your legs, or a cough that worsens when you lie down (may indicate congestive heart failure)
- Exposure to someone with tuberculosis
- Unintentional weight loss or night sweats (may also indicate tuberculosis)
- Cough longer than 10-14 days
- Cough in an infant younger than 3 months old
Tips for treating common cold in kids
Treating a kid's cold is trickier than ever. Parents have long reached for over-the-counter cough and cold remedies, but it is no longer recommended for children younger than four. And, the investigation is on whether these drugs are safe for older kids.
One thing's clear: None of these over-the-counter medications can cure the common cold or make it go away any faster.
- Keep Them Home
Talk to any school teachers and you'll find that plenty of parents send their children to school or day care when they shouldn't. Don't be that parent.
If your child has a fever over 101 degrees, or any fever just as he is starting to get sick, keep him home, says the American and Indian Academy of Pediatrics (AAP and IAP). Even if your child doesn't have a sky-high fever, consider keeping him home if he's too sick to take part in school activities or if he is contagious.
Staying home may help your child get better more quickly and avoid spreading germs to his peers.
- Treat A Fever
A fever is a sign that your child is fighting her infection. If the fever climbs above 100.2 degrees and she has aches and pains, give her acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).
Use products and dosages recommended for your child's age (Never give a child aspirin because it's associated with Reye's syndrome.)
If your child is younger than three months old and has a rectal fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or is between three months and three years old and has a temperature over 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit, seek immediate medical attention
- Prevent Dehydration