Coughing is one of the most common symptoms in children under two years of age and is one of the main reasons why parents seek medical attention at FMP Hanoi. In most children, acute coughing is due to a viral upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), i.e., the common cold. Preschool and school children might suffer from acute respiratory infections six to eight times a school year, and can cough up to 140 times daily with a URTI.
A cough can sound awful, but it’s not usually a sign of a serious condition. In fact, coughing is a healthy and important natural reaction which helps protect the airways in the throat and chest. It is our body’s natural reflex and essential defence serving to drain the channels which help us breath.
A young child in good health will on average have seven to 10 episodes per year from respiratory infections associated with a cough.
Different Kinds of Coughs
Barky coughs are usually caused by a swelling in the upper part of the airway. Most of the time, a barky cough comes from croup, a swelling of the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe).
Cold air or activity can make coughs worse during the daytime. Try to make sure that nothing in your house — like air freshener, pets, or smoke (especially tobacco smoke) — is making your child cough.
A child who has a cough, mild fever, and runny nose probably has a common cold.
Lots of coughs get worse at night. When your child has a cold, the mucus from the nose and sinuses can drain down the throat and trigger a cough during sleep. This is only a problem if the cough prevents your child from sleeping.
Coughs caused by colds due to viruses can last weeks, especially if a child has one cold right after another.
Kids often cough so much that it triggers their gag reflex, making them throw up.
If your child makes a wheezing (whistling) sound when breathing out (exhaling), this could mean that the lower airways in the lungs are swollen. This can happen with asthma or with the viral infection, bronchiolitis. Wheezing also can happen if the lower airway is blocked by a foreign object.
Another name is pertussis, an infection of the airways caused by the bacteria bordetella pertussis. Kids with pertussis will have spells of back-to-back coughs without breathing in between.
— Wash the nose gently with saline, several times a day (especially before meals and at bedtime).
— Use disposable tissues and wash your hands before and after with water and soap (or with a hydro-alcoholic solution).
— Let them drink regularly.
— Keep a fresh and ventilated atmosphere (19°C to 20°C) in their room
— Do not smoke in the home even outside the room where your child sleeps.
— Never give cough medicine to children under two years old without the advice of your doctor
For most children, coughs will disappear naturally over 10 to 14 days. Some may slip into three to four weeks without complication. It is therefore important to respect the cough characteristic and not to try to suppress it by using cough medicines preventing the evacuation of mucus and sputum.
When to Consult your Doctor?
— If your child has difficulty breathing or feeding
— If your child under three months has a fever (above 38˚C)
— If their behaviour is unusual (discomfort, pain...)
— If fever persists for more than three days
— If other symptoms appear (diarrhea, vomiting, rashes...)
— If the cough persists for more than a week without improvement
Dr. Philippe Collin is a French pediatrician at Family Medical Practice Hanoi. For information or assistance call (04) 3843 0748 (Hanoi), (08) 3822 7848 (Ho Chi Minh City) or (0511) 3582 699 (Danang). Alternatively, click on vietnammedicalpractice.com