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Children's Cough: Causes and Treatments

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A Word About Children and Cough Medicine

Medication can't cure colds or flu, but hard candies or cough drops can help relieve a sore throat caused by coughing. Because of choking hazards, only give hard candies or cough drops to children over age 4. DO NOT give honey-based cough drops to children age 1 or younger. Moist air can help children cope with croup; try a warm, steamy bathroom, or cool morning air. For lingering coughs in an asthmatic, your child may need to take steroids or other medications prescribed by the doctor.

Don't give cough medicine to children under age 4. Not only are these drugs not approved for very young children, there's no proof that they benefit them, either.

Also important: Never give aspirin to children under age 18. Aspirin in children may cause Reye Syndrome, a rare but serious brain disease.

When to Call a Doctor About Your Child's Cough

Call 911 if your child:

  • Is struggling for breath, can't talk, or grunts with each breath
  • Is choking and unable to stop
  • Has passed out or stopped breathing
  • Has blue-tinged lips or fingernails

Call your doctor right away if your child:

  • Has trouble breathing
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Turns red or purple when coughing
  • Drools or has trouble swallowing
  • Seems very sick or fatigued
  • May have an object caught in their throat
  • Has chest pain when breathing deep
  • Is coughing blood or wheezing
  • Has a weak immune system or is not fully immunized
  • Is younger than age 4 months with a rectal temperature above 100.4° F (Do not give fever medicine to infants.)
  • Has a fever over 104° F, with no improvement in two hours after fever medicine

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on March 25, 2014
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