When should parents be concerned about a child’s cough?

When should parents be concerned about a child’s cough?

Here's how you can effectively treat acute cough in children.

Child coughing

It's winter in South Africa, which means the chances of you dealing with a sick child are very high.

Either your child has a cold or flu, and in desperate need of a Vitamin C smoothie, or coughing up a storm.

Treating coughs can be frustrating for parents as the recovery time can take several days. Health experts say 50% of children recover within 10 days, but it can take three to four weeks for many children. 

But before you start Googling solutions - and getting a heart attack from Dr Google's diagnoses, here's a breakdown of everything you need to know about treating acute coughs in children from a GP.

When should you become worried about your child's cough? 

Coughs are considered an important reflex defence mechanism that help keep children's lungs clear. It is natural for your child to feel miserable when he/she is sick, but if your child displays any of the following it is best to see a doctor urgently: 

  • Blue tint to the lips and/or skin (cyanosis) 
  • Loud squeaking noise when breathing in (stridor)
  • Difficulty in breathing 
  • An ill appearance 
  • Spasms of uncontrollable, repetitive coughing followed by a high-pitched intake of air (whoop) 
  • Any child suspected of inhaling a foreign body (sudden onset of cough with no other symptoms) 
  • ‘Barking’ cough (croup) 
  • High fever or underlying lung disorders, e.g. asthma or cystic fibrosis

How to treat acute cough?

When it comes to treating acute cough, it usually depends on whether your child has a wet or dry cough. Dry coughs produce no mucus, and children may describe it as ticklish. A wet cough produces mucus, but  many parents hardly see any mucus as their children usually swallow it.

Parents usually turn to over-the-counter medications to treat acute coughs, with many preferring cough mixture syrups. But giving your child the right dosage can be tricky, as not everyone uses the same dosage tools. This means you could end up giving your child an incorrect dose, which results in bad side effects.

While cough mixtures are a common choice, there is little proof that they are actually effective. More people are turning to mucolytics (medicines that thin mucus) such as N-acetylcysteine, which come in an effervescent tablet form, to treat their children's acute cough. Tablets make it less likely for parents to get the dosage wrong, but you will have to come up with creative ways to get some little ones to take them.

Some parents are also opting to try natural remedies, like taking a half teaspoon of honey before bed to sooth a cough, before turning to medication.

Whatever treatment method you decided on, make sure you keep a close eye on your little one's progress to make sure their condition is not deteriorating.  

Before treating your child with any medication, especially if he/she has other health conditions, it is advisable to seek professional medical help.

ALSO READ: 40% of South Africans likely to 'pull a sickie' this winter

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