First Aid: Coughing

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First Aid

Coughing is a healthy reflex that helps clear the airways. A severe or lingering cough requires medical treatment, but many coughs are caused by viruses that just need to run their course.

What to Do

  • If your child develops a "barky" or "croupy" cough, sit in a steamy bathroom together for about 20 minutes.
  • Offer plenty of fluids (breast milk or formula for babies; cool water and juice for older kids). Avoid carbonated or citrus drinks that may irritate a raw throat.
  • Run a cool-mist humidifier in your child's bedroom.
  • Use saline (saltwater) nose drops to relieve congestion.
  • Never give cough drops (a choking hazard) to young kids or cough or cold medicine to kids under 2 years of age (consult a doctor first for older kids).

Seek Medical Care

If Your Child:

  • has severe cough spasms or attacks, wheezing, or stridor (an almost-musical sound when inhaling)
  • has a cough that lasts 3 weeks, gets worse, happens the same time every year, or seems caused by something specific (such as pollen, dust, pets, etc.)
  • has a persistent fever
  • is younger than 3 months old and has fever with the cough
  • is breathing fast or working hard to breathe
  • has a blue or dusky color in the lips, face, or tongue during or after coughing

Think Prevention!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014



Related Resources

OrganizationAmerican Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.
OrganizationAmerican Lung Association The mission of this group is to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Contact the group at: American Lung Association
61 Broadway, 6th Floor
NY, NY 10006
(212) 315-8700
OrganizationImmunization Action Coalition This organization is a source of childhood, adolescent, and adult immunization information as well as hepatitis B educational materials.
Web SiteCDC: Pre-teen and Teen Vaccines CDC site provides materials in English and Spanish for parents, teens, pre-teens, and health care providers about vaccines and the diseases they prevent.
Web SiteCDC: Flu (Influenza) The CDC's site has up-to-date information on flu outbreaks, immunizations, symptoms, prevention, and more.
Web SiteCDC: Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Visit the CDC's whooping cough (pertussis) homepage to learn about disease outbreaks, treatments, new vaccines, and more.


Related Articles

Croup Croup is characterized by a loud cough that resembles the barking of a seal and difficulty breathing. Most cases of croup are caused by viruses, are mild, and can be treated at home.
Asthma Center Asthma keeps more kids home from school than any other chronic illness. Learn how to help your child manage the condition, stay healthy, and stay in school.
Is It a Cold or the Flu? Your child is sent home from school with a sore throat, cough, and high fever - could it be the flu that's been going around? Or is it just a common cold? Find out here!
Common Cold With kids getting up to eight colds a year, this contagious viral infection is the most common infectious disease in the United States and the top reason kids visit the doctor and miss school.
Flu Center Learn all about protecting your family from the flu and what to do if your child gets flu-like symptoms.
Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Pertussis is characterized by severe coughing spells that end in a whooping sound when the person breathes in. It can be prevented with the pertussis vaccine, part of the DTaP immunization.
Your Child's Immunizations: Diphtheria, Tetanus & Pertussis Vaccine (DTaP) Find out when and why your child needs to get this vaccine.
Coughing Coughs are a common symptom, but most aren't a sign of a serious condition. Learn about different coughs, how to help your child feel better, and when to call your doctor.
Why Is Hand Washing So Important? Did you know that proper hand washing is the best way to keep from getting sick? Here's how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.




Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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