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12/12/13blog post

what to do about that awful cough!

By: Melissa King, DO

Cough, cough, and cough… cough, cough, and cough

Does it sound like this at your house? It has sounded like this at my house for the past few weeks. Ethan has been coughing off and on, mostly at night, for about the past 3 weeks. He is not running a fever, he is eating and drinking fine, he is not vomiting, but he does have a runny nose. And really the cough is noticeable at times but then forgettable as well. I mean I think about it when he coughs but then he is acting otherwise fine, so I forget about it, until the next cough.

What could be causing the cough?

Environmental irritation: most of us have recently turned on our heating systems and that heat is typically drying to our mucous membranes. Also, the heating system can blow more dust into the air which can be irritating as well.

Allergies: Are dust mites, molds, or other environmental allergies the trigger? Does your child frequently have a runny nose, itchy, watery eyes or sneezing? Are there dark circles under your child’s eyes?

Inflammation/ infection: Is your child coughing day and night? Is the cough worse when your child becomes active? Is your child having fevers? Is your child having difficulty breathing, breathing faster or deeper than normal? Do you hear a wheeze from them?

Cough may be due to drainage or congestion in the back of their throat or by inflammation at the back of the throat. Cough is a protective mechanism that helps to keep fluid out of our lungs. However, cough can also occur if there is congestion within the lungs, either from an infection such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis, and/or inflammation such as asthma or from a foreign body/ something inhaled.

What to do:

If your child is happy, playful, and otherwise does not seem to be bothered by the cough… leave it alone. This is where we are with Ethan.

If, however, your child seems uncomfortable because of the cough or is not sleeping as well, then here are some remedies:


Increase moisture in the environment. There are attachments for some heating systems that allow you to do this house wide. Use a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer for the bedroom. (Change water daily and wash the bowls/humidifiers). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends cool mist humidifiers, especially in households with smaller children, due to the lower risk of burn injuries. These devices have cords that can entice children to pull on which can cause the device to tip over spilling hot water and potentially causing a burn.

Ensure that you have changed the air filters and continue to do so at the recommended intervals for your heating system.


For cough in a child older than 1 year give a teaspoon of honey. You can give this honey plain; mix with warm apple juice or warm lemonade or in a glass of water with fresh squeezed lemon. Honey will help to soothe the throat and lemon will help to break up congestion. If your child is less than 1 year of age, do NOT give honey. However, you can try some warm water or warm apple juice to soothe the throat.

Offer your child plenty of fluids.

Antihistamine such as Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec (or their generic counterparts), may help if their symptoms are due to allergies, however they will not help a cough from an infection. Discuss with your doctor about the need for trialing these medicines and/ or the role of allergy testing.

When to contact your child’s doctor’s office:

If your child has a fever (see my previous blog about fever phobia for more information regarding fevers)

Difficulty breathing – breathing harder or faster, wheezing

Vomiting or refusing/ unable to drink fluids

Cough lasting longer than 1 month

What about this whooping cough everyone is talking about?

We have been having an increasing number of children in the Dayton Community in recent months being diagnosed with whooping cough, aka Pertussis. Although we have a vaccine for Pertussis that many children receive as a routine part of their immunization schedule, immunity from this vaccine reduces over time. We recommend a booster dose to all children at age 11 years before they enter 7th grade. We also recommend all adults receive a booster dose.

Pertussis, aka whooping cough, causes a terrible prolonged cough. This illness is also known as the 100 day cough. The cough often occurs in bursts causing a prolonged staccato cough that may cause vomiting or take someone’s breath away. For the younger infants and the elderly this illness can be deadly. The illness often starts like a cold with runny nose, congestion and cough. But over 1-2 weeks the cough becomes worse, not better, a sign that you need to have the child evaluated by a medical professional.

For more information check out our other blogs about whooping cough at or review information available by the CDC at But over 1-2 weeks the cough becomes worse, not better, a sign that you need to have the child evaluated by a medical professional.

Stay happy and healthy!

By: Melissa King, DO “Dr. Mom Sqaud”

Dr. King is a general pediatrician in the Children’s Health Clinic at Dayton Children’s and the mother of two kids. As part of the “Dr. Mom Sqaud,” Dr. King blogs about her experiences as both as doctor and a mom and hopes to share insight to other parents on issues related to both parenting and kids health. Learn more about Dr. King!