Treating a Common Cold Cough

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boy coughingAntibiotics have no effect on the common cold.

Coughing has a purpose. It is the body’s way of clearing secretions. If the cough is caused by a common cold it is probably best to help your child stay comfortable but not suppress the cough itself. Exceptions to this are if you believe this is not a cough caused by a common cold, in which case you should contact your physician, or if the cough interfering with your child’s sleep. If your child is sleep deprived his/her body is less able to fight the illness on it’s own. Suppressing the cough to allow the body to rest and heal more quickly serves a purpose.

Natural Cough Treatments
The easiest and safest way to treat cough during a cold is to use a humidifier or vaporizer in your child’s room. Keeping the air moist soothes the throat and minimizes post-nasal drip.

Steam. There is nothing better. Go into the smallest bathroom in your house, put the shower on its hottest setting, and create your own steam room. Sit in the room (not in the steamy water) with your child to help clear the secretions and calm the cough.

Look for the things you need, and don’t give your child medicines they don’t need.

Decongest. Nasal saline (salt water) helps to loosen and clear mucus in the nose and also helps to delay the return of the mucus. Squeeze two to three drops of the nasal saline into each nostril and then have your child blow his/her nose (use the bulb syringe to suction mucus out of the noses of smaller children/infants). In older and cooperative children you can use a saline flushing system, such as the neti pot, to clear out the nasal passages.

If your child is over 12 months of age you can try to prop him/her up on a pillow for sleep. If your child is less than 12 months of age and seems to keep his/her head at one end of the crib at night you can place a phone book under each of the two front legs of the crib so that the head of the bed is higher than the foot. Like a pillow, but safer for little ones.

If your child is over 12 months of age you can use a teaspoon of honey – pure raw honey on a teaspoon- as needed. It soothes the throat and in recent studies has been shown to work as well as over the counter cough suppressants at calming the cough. This is only safe in children over a year of age. DO NOT EVER GIVE HONEY OR CORN SYRUP TO A CHILD LESS THAN ONE YEAR OF AGE.

There is little scientific evidence regarding the use of herbal supplements in the treatment of cough and cold, but the doses for the ones most commonly discussed are:

Ecinacea – one of the following forms taken 3x/day for 7-10 days

Zinc – once a day

Vitamin C – once a day

Medications for Suppressing a Cough Caused by a Cold
Every physician seems to have a different perspective regarding the use of over the counter medications. We tend to agree on a couple of points –

  1. They are unsafe to use in children under a year of age.
  2. If your child is over 5 years of age, they are safe if used as directed.
  3. There is no definitive proof that they are effective.

There are a few main ingredients in most cough and cold preparations. Look for the things you need, and don’t give your child medicines they don’t need. It is usually best to stay away from combinations of fever/pain control with cough and cold medicines. If your child has a fever you want to be accurate about the dosing (see medication dosing guidelines) and you lose this accuracy with combination medications. The main goals/ingredients of cough medicines are as follows:

Guaifenesin – expectorant used to help loosen and bring up mucus
Dextromethorphan – cough suppressant
Diphenhydramine – anti-histamine used to calm the airways and body during an allergic reaction. Causes drowsiness as a side effect in most children (beware – it causes the opposite in some) so it is in most ‘nighttime’ cough preparations to make your child drowsy.
Phenylephrine – a decongestant. It has replaced pseudoephedrine in most over the counter cough and cold preparations due to misuse of pseudoephedrine by the general population
Pseudoephedrine – a decongestant. Often more effective than phenylephrine. Available without a prescription but kept behind the pharmacy counter to prevent abuse.

If your child is/has any of the following, contact and/or see your physician:

If you feel that something is just not right – remember, no one knows your child like you do!

-Monique Araya, MD, FAAP

The medical information on this Web site is provided for educational purposes only. The information provided in this site, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.
If you believe you have a medical emergency you should call 911 or your physician immediately. If you have any questions regarding your health or a medical condition, you should promptly consult your physician.