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Barking, Hacking, Whooping, Oh My! Deciphering your Baby’s Cough this Winter

January 2, 2013

iStock_000015808098SmallChances are that someone on your block, at your daycare, or in your home, has a terrible cough right now. It’s the season for stuffy noses, raw throats, and nagging coughs. You know how to take care of yourself when the coughing begins, but if you have an infant or small child, you might be driving yourself crazy trying to decode their cough! It can be hard to tell whether a cough is serious and your pediatrician should be consulted, or if the cough is just a flagging cold and will go away on its own. Here are some rules of thumb to help you decipher those hacks!

  1. If your child is less than four months old and has a cough or a fever, see your pediatrician. While the underlying issue may be treatable, at this age you want to focus on treatment right away. Don’t panic; just make the call!
  2. If your child has a dry cough, accompanied by a runny nose and a sore throat, she’s probably just suffering through a cold that will resolve on its own. This usually isn’t cause for concern, unless her fever rises to over 100.4. In that case, give your pediatrician a buzz.
  3. Hearing signs of a wet, phlegm-filled cough? This might be a good time to visit a doctor. It’s possible that your child has bronchitis, which can resolve on its own. But it can also turn into a bacterial infection, which requires antibiotics. And if your child is feverish, pale, and achy, you may want to ask your doctor to rule out pneumonia, which can be very serious without immediate treatment.
  4. Ever since the vaccination for whooping cough (pertussis) was introduced in the 1960’s, cases have declined rapidly in the U.S. But rare outbreaks have occurred recently. If your child makes a loud, jarring, whooping sound when he coughs, has frequent spasms of coughing, or seems to be struggling to get air, bring him to your doctor’s office that day, or to urgent care. If he has whooping cough, he and the other members of your family will likely require antibiotics to cure the infection and stop it from spreading.
  5. Often coming on the heels of a slight cold, croup can be very scary for new moms. Croup is distinguished by a barking cough on the inhale and is due to irritation and swelling of the trachea. In order to open your baby’s airways and help her breathe, run the shower and sit with her in the warm humid bathroom a few times each day. When she sleeps, keep a humidifier on in her room. Croup should resolve within two to three days. If it doesn’t, call your pediatrician.

Remember not to panic. It can be scary to hear your baby coughing and seemingly in distress at such a young age, especially if you’re a first-time mom. But paying close attention to the sound of a cough and the presence of other symptoms, like fever, is key. And most causes of coughing in children are very treatable if they do progress to the point of needing a doctor’s care.

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