Every kid occasionally catches a cough, but which ones should you worry about? Here are some of the ‘weird’ coughs you may hear (or should watch out for), what it means, how to keep your child comfortable, and whether it merits a quick trip to the doctor or even the emergency room.
This cough kind of sounds like a baby seal. It is worse at night, and your child may even have trouble catching his breath. The culprit is a viral illness called croup, where the larynx and the windpipe get so inflamed that it becomes hard to breathe. Watch out for a whistling sound when he tries to breathe in.
You can help your child breathe easier by opening a window (moist, cold air will help relax the airway) or making him sit in a bathroom with a hot shower on (the steam will also help him breathe). Get emergency help if you notice that the whistling sound in his breathing is getting worse, and lasts for more than 5 minutes. If your child often gets these types of coughs, invest in a cool mist humidifier.
Runny nose and a phlegmy cough is what you call a common cold. This can last for up to 2 weeks. Unfortunately you can’t do anything except let it pass since viruses can’t be treated with antibiotics. Keep him comfortable with saline nose drops, and suction off mucus with a bulb syringe if he’s too young to know how to blow his nose. Cool mist humidiers and even warm baths can alleviate the stuffiness, or dissolve vapor rub into a towel or a cup of water and have him inhale it.
This cough tends to get worse at night, and may be an indication of asthma—especially if it tends to occur if your child has had exercise or has inhaled cold air. Also see if his chest seems to cave in whenever he inhales. Report this cough to a doctor, since doctors will only be able to diagnose asthma based on the pattern of symptoms you provide during visits.
If your normally active child is too tired to play, or is fussy and complains of aching muscles, he has the flu. Protect him with a flu vaccine every year, and ask your doctor about what kind of medicines you can give. Some will prescribe acetaminophen or ibuprofen, depending on your child’s age and health history.
You notice rapid breathing, followed by a rather scary wheezy sound. This could be a symptom of bronchiolitis, usually caused by the RSV virus. Babies are particularly vulnerable. Since your child is having difficulty breathing, contact your doctor immediately. More serious cases may need oxygen or IV to prevent dehydration.
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