Your baby won't stop coughing -- what should you do?

by Melissa Jaramillo

coughing babyThe baby's down, peacefully sleeping and you're thinking of heading toward the land of nod yourself.

Then you hear it...coughs and a rustle. It could be a long night!

The FDA warned against cough medicines for kids under 6 years old. Is there anything you can do when your baby won't stop coughing?

Coughs aren't always a bad thing. In an otherwise healthy child, they have a job to do.

Coughs help your baby's body defend itself by keeping airways clear, removing mucus and dislodging pieces of food.

Different kinds of coughs

"Barky" coughs usually are caused by swelling in the upper part of the airway. Common culprits are a virus, an allergy or a change in temperature. Your baby may inhale with a coarse, musical sound.

Whooping cough or pertussin causes episodes of back-to-back coughing without a breath between. Your baby will take a deep breath that makes a whooping sound when the coughing ends.

Coughs with wheezing or whistling sounds could indicate asthma, a viral infection or a blocked the lower airway.

Nighttime cough: A baby's cough often gets worse at night when the mucus from the nose and sinuses drain down the throat.

Daytime cough: Cold air or activity can make coughs worse during the daytime. If your baby has a cough, look for things that could make it worse, like an air freshener or tobacco smoke.

Cough with vomiting: Young children often cough so much that it triggers their gag reflex. Also, mucus draining into the stomach from a cold or asthma flare-up can irritate the stomach and cause nausea.

Persistent cough: Coughs caused by viruses can last weeks. Allergies, asthma or a chronic infection might also trigger a persistent cough.

When to call the doctor

Call 911 or your country's emergency number if your baby:
• Has trouble breathing or is working hard to breathe
• Is breathing much more quickly than usual
• Has a blue or dusky color to the lips, face, or tongue

Get medical attention if your baby:
• Makes a "whooping" sound when breathing in after coughing
• Is less than 3 months old
• Has a high fever
• Is coughing up blood
• Makes a noisy or musical sound when breathing in
• Does not have an asthma care plan and is wheezing when breathing out
• Is weak, cranky, or irritable
• Is dehydrated

Treating your baby's cough

Medicines work differently in adults than in young children. The very syrup that sends your hacking cough to bed might not have the same effect on your baby.

In fact, studies indicate that cough medicines aren't effective for kids. The FDA warned against giving them to children under two years old because they can cause serious harm or death.

Here are ways you can help your baby feel better.

Keep fluid intake high. For babies less than six months old, stick to breast milk or formula. Your doctor may recommend an oral electrolyte solution designed for babies. Don't give straight water; baby's kidneys can't process it correctly.

For toddlers older than 12 months, you can offer water, diluted juice and milk.

Keep your baby's nose clear. You're probably sighing. Yes, get and the suction bulb and clear out the mucus. Your baby will breathe easier, have less problems eating and have less coughing from drainage. Saline nose drops may also help.

Use a humidifier. Keeping the air moist can help your baby's cough. Use a cool air humidifier.

For a "barky" or "croupy" cough, turn on the hot water in the shower. Close the bathroom door so that the room steams up. Sit in the bathroom with your baby for about 20 minutes. The steam may help your child breathe easier.

Go outside. Sometimes a brief exposure to cool outdoor air relieves the cough. Dress your baby for outdoors and try it for 10 to 15 minutes.

Eliminate cough triggers. Smoke can irritate already inflamed airways. Don't smoke in a house with children. If your baby has a cold, keep them away from other sources of smoke such as grills, wood-burning fires and candles.

If your baby has asthma, follow your doctor's treatment plan.

For toddlers only: Is your baby over a year old? Here's a remedy straight out of grandma's kitchen to calm that cough -- honey. A typical dose is 1/2 teaspoon for toddlers and preschoolers.

Has your baby had a cough? What seemed to help the most?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.