The cough reflex is the body’s defense mechanism against mucus accumulation in the bronchial tubes. It is the primary defense mechanism of the body to prevent pneumonia.  Coughs are very common and are usually not serious. Coughs frequently accompany an ordinary cold, and require no treatment. For children over the age of six years, for comfort’s sake, coughs may be treated with over-the-counter cough medications. Medications such as Dimetapp cold and cough, Robitussin DM, Mucinex, and Delsym, to name a few, are all effective.

Infants and children younger than six years should probably not receive cough suppressant medications unless directed by a doctor, because of a slight risk of developing pneumonia and some a question of the safety of the cough cold medications discussed in the cold section of this handbook. A dose of cough medicine mainly given at night for children over the age of six years, is safe. Cough medications which are prescribed by a doctor at an office visit for a specific illness can be taken as directed.  Other remedies which might help are adding a humidifier for a few days (however this can cause mold to grow in your house, so use a humidifier only for a few days).  You can raise the head of your child’s bed to promote drainage.  Some people find relief with Vick’s Vaporub.  Honey based cough medications such as Zarbee’s are safe after the age of one year.  Zarbee’s infant cough medicine can be given to small infants.  It has some natural ingredients that may help sooth the cough a little.

Coughs which need to be evaluated further are those which:

  1. Are accompanied by high fever.
  2. Persist for more than seven to ten days.
  3. Interfere significantly with sleep and daily activities.
  4. Are accompanied by labored or difficult breathing, or a blue discoloration of the lips, gums or face (see section on asthma and RSV Bronchiolitis).
  5. Are particularly severe with coughing fits that last several seconds.
  6. Occur in infants three months or less.
  7. Are associated with vomiting.

Any of the above symptoms should prompt an office visit during regular office hours except coughs which are accompanied by labored breathing (breathing difficulty) which should prompt immediate care.

Reviewed 3/16/17 by Dr. Byrum