Whether loud or soft, coughs make a distinctive, harsh sound as they force your lungs to release air and other substances. Both healthy children and healthy adults cough now and again for various reasons, sometimes on numerous occasions in one day. Parents must learn how to distinguish the types of coughs that children experience in order to determine when coughing is harmless or a sign of illness.
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Coughing is a common sign of sickness in children, according to KidsHealth, although the act of coughing is actually a normal reflex that helps keep your chest and throat healthy. Coughs clear your child's airways by removing excess mucus, foreign particles and other substances. Without coughs, such matter would remain in place longer and possibly block or irritate the passages, which could make your child feel even worse.
Types of Cough
Also called productive coughs, wet coughs typically bring up fluids such as mucus and sputum from the lungs or windpipe, notes the Child Health Guide from Dartmouth Medical School. In contrast, dry coughs usually do not involve the release of fluids, although they can indicate that the lungs or windpipe are infected. Coughs can also be either acute, lasting only days or several weeks, or chronic, lasting more than a month, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Wet coughs are an effective way for your child's body to get rid of unneeded fluids in her lower respiratory tract. If the coughs are the result of a bacterial infection, the released substances will contain bacteria that your child's doctor can detect with a test, such as a culture. While older children are able to spit out the fluids that wet coughs bring up, younger children tend to swallow them. As a result, younger children with wet coughs may also suffer from an upset stomach, although the fluids they swallow eventually leave their body through bowel movements or vomit.
Numerous medical conditions that afflict children have wet coughs as a symptom, including certain allergies, asthma and respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, flu, pneumonia and the common cold, points out The Children's Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Colorado Denver. Most wet coughs in children are because of a cold, however. Because colds are not typically dangerous, children suffering from wet coughs related to a cold are often able to continue with normal activities after they begin feeling well again, as long as they do not have a fever.
Because wet coughs serve an important function in children, which is helping their respiratory tract remove unnecessary substances, parents should try to help such coughs achieve their goal, advises The Children's Hospital. Doing so involves making sure your child drinks plenty of fluids that will not irritate his throat further, such as apple juice or warm broth. You may also give your child honey as a natural cough medicine if he is older than 1, or a store-bought cough treatment containing dextromethorphan if he is older than 4. However, if your child's condition worsens or his wet coughs continue for more than three weeks, you should consult a health care professional for treatment.