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.
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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
August 16, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& David Messenger, MD
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