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How To Decode Your Baby's Cough

By Varsha Pappachan

If you are a parent of an infant or even a toddler, the well being of your child would be of utmost priority to you. This happens especially due to the fact that babies or toddlers may be prone to illnesses and may be unable to express their sickness in words.

Stuffed nose, running nose, sneezing and cough are some of the common ailments that young kids or babies are known to catch easily. Let us find out about coughs in babies and the ways which could help you understand your child's cough and thereby help you take the necessary action.

How to Decode Your Babys Cough

What Is Coughing?

Coughing in a voluntary manner happens as a reflex action in the body that helps clear the throat of foreign irritants or mucus. However, involuntary cough could be due to various reasons, and the frequency could be more. It can be called acute if it persists for more than 2-3 weeks.

Coughing consists of three phases:

1. Breathing in
2. Closed vocal cords and increased pressure in lungs and throat
3. Vocal cords open with an abrupt release of air, resulting in the typical coughing sound

Are There Any Benefits Of Coughing?

Yes, there are. Since coughing helps clear the airways, while it evicts mucus or phlegm from the throat, it can be called the body's mechanism to protect itself.

Types Of Cough

Dry cough: When your baby is suffering with cold or some sort of allergy, this kind of cough occurs. It is helpful in clearing the post nasal dripping or curing the irritation in the sore throat.

Wet cough: As the name suggests, this cough is wet and would form mucus or phlegm in the baby's airways and is a resultant of respiratory sickness caused due to a bacterial infection. The phlegm or mucus would contain WBC or white blood cells, which fight germs.

How To Determine The Seriousness Of Cough In Your Baby?

Your baby might be coughing due to any of the below-mentioned reasons:

RSV:

For your information, usually children below the age of 4 months do not cough much; however, if they do for a long period, then it may require immediate attention. They might be suffering from RSV that is respiratory syncytial virus, which is a dangerous viral infection in infants and is contagious.

If RSV is severe, it could further lead to serious issues such as inflammation of the small airways of the lungs, i.e., bronchiolitis, or even the life-threatening pneumonia.

• Symptoms of RSV: The main symptoms of RSV include prolonged cough and runny nose which may last upto 2 weeks. Usually, prematurely born babies are most prone to catching RSV. Also, children born with lung or heart diseases, weakened immune systems due medication are also sensitive to RSV.

• Precautions in case of RSV: Keep your hands clean by washing them often. Keep your baby away from people, especially those with cold symptoms. Don't let them touch your baby without washing their hands. Don't kiss your baby if you have cold symptoms. Keep the hard surfaces clean and disinfected.

• Treating RSV: A medication called palivizumab is known to prevent the serious results of RSV infection; however, usually doctors do not suggest it since no medicine could treat the virus. Therefore, caring for your baby needs to involve treating the symptoms of the infection. For instance, sticky nasal fluids may be removed using saline drops in a bulb syringe.

To make the breathing easy, a cool-mist vaporizer could be used to moisten the air. Also, you must administer small amounts of fluids on consistent basis to your baby. In case none of these home-care methods work, your baby may have to be treated at the hospital with the medications to open the airways, IV fluids or oxygen.

Common Cold:

Coughing due to common cold is quite common. Your baby may have stuffy nose or sore throat, when the cough is dry. If the baby has mucus and slight fever, the cough will be wet. For this kind of coughing, it is advisable to avoid usage of medicines and simply opting for home remedies such as more rest along with more fluids. In case of fever, you could immediately consult a doctor for advice.

Pneumonia:

The cough caused by the bacterial or viral infection called pneumonia would be wet and full of phlegm. The baby may be lethargic, and the cough would look green or yellow or both. It is best to consult the doctor for the treatment. The bacterial pneumonia will be more dangerous as compared to the viral one.

Whooping Cough:

This kind of cough is caused by the life-threatening bacteria, and includes frequent and worrisome cough. The symptoms may also include bulging of the eyes, discolouration of face and stuck out tongue, while coughing. The treatment is in the form of prevention of this cough by administering the three vaccines of DTP, namely tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

Asthma:

Asthma happens after a bout of runny nose and coughing, and may cause wheezing or obstruction of airways. However, it is known to be a consequence of eczema or due to a family history of asthma or allergies to foreign particles such as dust. You must refer to a doctor in case of wheezing, noisy breathing pattern, itchy or watery eyes, etc.

Even if it may not be diagnosed as asthma eventually, the doctor would be able to administer the right kind of treatment for the baby, in order to open the blocked airways. E.g., with the help of nebulizer, which helps deliver the medicine in a mist form into the baby's airways.

Croup:

This is another common cough which usually occurs due to a viral infection. It swells up the lining of the trachea, i.e., the windpipe while closing the airways. It leads to difficulty in breathing and a cough sounding like barking. For this kind of cough, humidifying the air is the best option.

For instance, you could let your baby breathe in the steamy air inside the closed bathroom while the hot shower is on, or run a humidifier which throws cool-mist air into the environment, or even take your baby out during the mid-evening to breathe in the damp air.

These are some of the examples of coughing in babies which you could notice and accordingly act.

However, it is important to seek immediate medical advice, in case of severe situations. Let us explore further.

When should you stop home-care and go for immediate medical intervention?

• When your baby is younger than 3-4 months.
• When the cough persists for more than 3-4 days.
• A wet or dry cough with fever as high as 100 degrees or more.
• Wheezing that may be light or mild.
• Consistent fits of coughing.
• Breathlessness.
• Coughing up blood or any other discharge other than phlegm.
• Your baby's face swelling up or losing colour or becoming pale.
• Feeding interrupted by coughing.

In a nutshell, you should notice the symptoms, sound, frequency and period of your baby's cough to determine how serious it is. For any confusion, you must consult the doctor, without waiting. The doctor would be able to answer any queries for you related to your baby's cough whether it is non-serious, acute or even chronic, and would be able to suggest the subsequent treatment.

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    Read more about: toddler cough remedies
    Story first published: Monday, July 9, 2018, 14:36 [IST]
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