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Children's Health

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Coughs, Age 11 and Younger - Home Treatment

Coughing is the body's way of removing foreign substances and mucus from the lungs and upper airway passages camera.gif. Productive coughs are often useful, and you should not try to eliminate them. Sometimes, though, coughs are severe enough to impair breathing or prevent rest. Home treatment can help your child feel more comfortable when he or she has a cough.

  • Prevent dehydration. Fluids may help soothe an irritated throat. Honey or lemon juice in hot water or tea may help a dry, hacking cough. Do not give honey to children younger than 1 year of age. It may contain bacteria that are harmful to babies.
  • Cough and cold medicines may not be safe for young children. Before you give them to a child, check the label. If you do give these medicines to a child, always follow the directions about how much to give based on the child's age and weight. These medicines may help with your child's symptoms, but they don't help your child get better faster. For more information, see Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children.
  • If your child's doctor tells you to give a medicine, be sure to follow what he or she tells you to do. How much medicine to take and how often to take it may be very different for children than for adults.
  • Do not give your child leftover antibiotics, or antibiotics or medicines that were prescribed for someone else.

If your child has a barking cough during the night, you can help him or her breathe better by following the home treatment for a barking cough.

  • Hold your child in a calming manner.
  • Keep your child quiet, if possible. Crying can make breathing more difficult. Try rocking or distracting your child with a book or game.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Do not use a hot vaporizer. Use only water in the humidifier. Hold your child in your lap, and let the cool vapor blow directly into your child's face.
  • If there is no improvement after several minutes, take the child into the bathroom and turn on the shower to create steam. Close the door and stay in the room while he or she breathes in the moist air for several minutes. Make sure your child is not burned by the hot water or steam. Do not leave your child alone in the bathroom.
  • If there is still no improvement, bundle your child up and go outside in the cool night air.

For more information on treating coughs and other respiratory problems, see the Home Treatment section of the topic Respiratory Problems, Age 11 and Younger.

Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your child's fever or pain:

Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
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