{cough, cough} We’d like to explain {cough, cough} all about the lingering {cough, cough} coughs that just {cough, cough} don’t go away. Even reading that sentence was difficult for you because, let’s face it, coughs are just really irritating. When our children cough, it’s irritating, heartbreaking, and nerve-wracking all at the same time. It keeps everybody up at night. Why do coughs take forever to go away? And why does nothing really work?

First, the good news. Coughs are actually a good thing. Just like a fever is your body’s natural way of fighting off infection, cough is your body’s natural way of clearing mucus from the lungs. Often times, when you or your child  cough, it will be “productive.” This means that mucus or secretions are brought up from the lungs giving the airways temporary clearance. Without an effective cough reflex, the mucus will back up and create a jam, much like the traffic on the highway. The back-up of mucus can make symptoms much worse. So, in summary, we actually need our bodies to cough when there is gunk to be cleared.

So, why doesn’t anything work?

It may come as a surprise to you, but the vast majority of cough medicines available on the market are not shown in research studies to work better than a placebo for reducing cough. The reason for this is that your body is not very cooperative with suppressing its natural reflex. There are some prescription medications for adults that can reduce cough, but there are very few (if any) times to use those medications for children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of over-the-counter cough medicines for children under the age of 4. Besides being ineffective at reducing a child’s cough, they are also potentially dangerous because the ingredients can have serious side effects in case of overdose. For older kids and teenagers, there are some over-the-counter cough & cold medicines available, but when compared to the tried and true methods of steam showers, nasal/saline rinses, drinking lots of liquids, honey, chicken noodle soup, and lots of TLC, the latter wins more often than not. (*Note: Honey should NEVER ben given to children less than one year of age.)

It’s important for parents to realize that just because a medication is labeled as “natural” or “organic,” does not mean that it is safe. In fact, many of the “natural ingredients” are potentially harmful in large quantities. Likewise, simply because a medication is available over-the-counter, doesn’t mean that it is safe for your child.

Additionally, there is no FDA oversight for “natural” cough/cold products sold over-the-counter or online.

*Always consult with your pediatrician prior to giving your child any medication, even if it’s labeled “natural.” 

Why is the cough lasting a hundred years?

On the highway, even after an accident clears, it takes time for the traffic to resume flowing normally. In the body, it takes time to clear the mucus/traffic from the lungs, even after the other symptoms are gone. Post-infectious coughs may linger even longer. Children with asthma or other medical problems may require an inhaler or nebulizer to help open the traffic jam (mucus) in the lungs.

In general, coughs that last longer than 2-3 weeks should be evaluated by a physician. While some viruses can actually cause a cough to linger for more than 3 weeks, there can also be other underlying reasons why a cough persists, like seasonal allergies.

Some Final Coughs to Leave You With…

In summary, doctors understand the frustration and annoyance with hearing a lingering cough in your child. As a parent, I’ve dealt with this first-hand. You want to be able to send your child back to school, daycare, activities, etc, but because they are coughing, you get the call to pick them up. As long as there is no fever present for at least 24 hours, a lingering cough is not a reason to miss school or daycare unless it becomes disruptive to the teacher or other students. It’s important to teach your child to cough into their elbow to avoid spreading germs. For school-age kids, lozenges or a bottle of water available at their desk at school may also help reduce the cough frequency. When in doubt, it’s always appropriate to reach out to your pediatrician for guidance!

Here’s to the traffic jam clearing in your little one soon! Cough, cough, go away!