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Coughing is the body's way of removing foreign material or mucus from
the lungs and upper airway passages or of reacting to an
irritated airway. Coughs have distinctive traits you can learn to recognize. A
cough is only a symptom, not a disease, and often the importance of a cough can
be determined only when other symptoms are evaluated.
information about coughs in teens and adults, see the topic
Coughs, Age 12 and Older.
A productive cough produces phlegm
or mucus (sputum). The mucus may have drained down the back of the throat from
the nose or sinuses or may have come up
from the lungs. A productive cough generally should not be suppressed; it
clears mucus from the lungs. There are many causes of a productive cough, such
A nonproductive cough is dry
and does not produce sputum. A dry, hacking cough may develop toward the end of
a cold or after exposure to an irritant, such as dust or smoke. There are many
causes of a nonproductive cough, such as:
Children may develop coughs from diseases or causes that usually do not affect adults, such
Many coughs are caused by a viral illness. Antibiotics
are not used to treat viral illnesses and do not change the course of viral
infections. Unnecessary use of an antibiotic exposes your child to the risks of
allergic reaction and antibiotic side effects, such as
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and yeast infections. Antibiotics also may
kill beneficial bacteria and encourage the development of dangerous
evaluation of your child's health may help you identify other symptoms.
Remember, a cough is only a symptom, not a disease, and often the importance of
a cough can only be determined when other symptoms are evaluated. Coughs occur
bacterial and viral respiratory infections. If your
child has other symptoms, such as a sore throat, sinus pressure, or ear pain,
see the Related Topics section.
Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.
A baby that is extremely sick:
A baby that is sick (but not extremely
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Sudden drooling and trouble swallowing can be signs of a
serious problem called epiglottitis. This problem can
happen at any age.
The epiglottis is a flap of tissue at the back
of the throat that you can't see when you look in the mouth. When you swallow, it closes to keep food and fluids out of the
tube (trachea) that leads to the lungs. If the epiglottis becomes inflamed or
infected, it can swell and quickly block the airway. This makes it very hard to
The symptoms start suddenly. A person with epiglottitis
is likely to seem very sick, have a fever, drool, and have trouble breathing,
swallowing, and making sounds. In the case of a child, you may notice the child
trying to sit up and lean forward with his or her jaw forward, because it's
easier to breathe in this position.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in children are:
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it.
For children up to 11 years old, here are the ranges for high, moderate, and
mild according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth), ear, or rectal temperature
Armpit (axillary) temperature
Note: For children under 5 years old, rectal temperatures are
the most accurate.
You can use a small rubber bulb (called an aspirating bulb)
to remove mucus from your baby's nose or mouth when a
cold or allergies make it hard for the baby to eat, sleep, or breathe.
To use the bulb:
Don't do this more than 5 or 6 times a day. Doing it too often
can make the congestion worse and can also cause the lining of the nose to
swell or bleed.
Symptoms of serious illness in a baby
may include the following:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing in a baby or young child can range from mild to severe. For example:
If you're not sure if a child's fever is high, moderate, or
mild, think about these issues:
With a high fever:
With a moderate fever:
With a mild fever:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Symptoms of serious illness may
Coughing is the body's way of removing
foreign substances and
mucus from the
lungs and upper airway passages. 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.
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
For more information on treating coughs and other respiratory
problems, see the Home Treatment section of the topic
Respiratory Problems, Age 11 and Younger.
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.
Call your child's doctor if any of the following occur during home
There is no sure way to prevent a cough. To
help reduce your child's risk:
For information on preventing allergies or asthma, see the
Allergic Rhinitis or
Asthma in Children.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor
diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer the
May 9, 2013
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD
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