It’s normal for children to cough once in a while, but a recurring cough can be alarming for both you and your child. Recurring coughs are defined as those that last for a long time or return again and again, according to DrPaul.com. Recurring coughs are a symptom, which means they have an underlying cause. The key to stopping the coughing is to find and treat the cause.
Coughing is the body’s reaction to a threat to the respiratory passages. These airways are lined with nerves. When the nerves are irritated by dust, dirt or germs, the larynx closes up to protect the delicate lungs. At the same time, the muscles in the abdomen and chest contract to push air from the lungs at a rapid speed. The air rushes through the larynx, opening it again, and sweeping out the dust, mucus and other foreign materials in an attempt to keep the lungs and bronchial tubes clean.
Dry recurring coughs are the most common in children. These are called “nonproductive” because they do not produce phlegm, or mucus. Sometimes, a child may wheeze a bit when dry coughing. Productive, or wet, coughs produce phlegm, and you can usually hear it rattling around in the chest when your child coughs or breathes. Whooping cough is a bacterial disease that produces coughing so intense that a child “whoops” as he struggles to breathe. This is not usually the cause of a recurring cough, but it is a serious disease that warrants immediate medical care.
Recurring coughs are often caused by recurring health issues. These can include allergies, asthma, or even environmental factors, such as secondhand smoke. Other causes are more serious. Chronic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, for example, can cause recurring coughs.
Recurrent coughing at night that is caused by allergies or asthma can be relieved or reduced by using a cool-mist humidifier and raising the mattress beneath your child’s head. Throat lozenges can soothe the throat and reduce the irritation caused by nasal drip. Try to avoid the allergens and activities, such as vigorous exercise, that trigger the coughing. Keep your child healthy with a nutritious diet. Recurrent coughs that are triggered by respiratory diseases will subside on their own as the disease is treated with antibiotics.
In some cases, such as if you know your child is suffering from asthma or nasal allergies, immediate medical treatment for a recurring cough is not necessary. There are some instances, however, when you should see your doctor as soon as possible. If your child is spitting up phlegm when he coughs that smells foul, or looks like it might contain blood, seek immediate medical attention. Other symptoms that necessitate a trip to the doctor include night coughing, wheezing when coughing, pain and swelling in the legs (which can indicate a blood clot and is more common in adults), or coughing with chest pain. In addition, if the coughing is accompanied by other symptoms of an illness, such as a fever and headache, a trip to the doctor’s is warranted.