Colds which are common illnesses that cause coughing, most often occur in the fall and winter. The common cold is viral in nature and quite contagious. There are about 200 variations of cold viruses . As babies’ immune systems are still developing, they often develop an infant cough.
This viral infection may also include the following symptoms:
- Poor appetite
- Hard to breathe
- Weight loss and night sweats
- Cough that lasts for eight weeks
Usually, the coughing will last the duration of the cold which can run up to ten days, but it can last longer with some improvements.
Other Common Illnesses That Include Coughs
Parents should be aware of different types of coughs and other accompanying symptoms. Recognizing coughs can lead to identifying their necessary treatments. Here are a few types of coughs that signify illness in children.
Whooping cough (Pertussis)
This type of cough causes a child to make whooping sounds while taking a deep breath after a coughing fit. Children who have not received their DTaP vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis are at risk for developing this illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest ongoing vaccinations until adolescence. Sometimes, infants who have whooping cough do not make the whooping sound after coughing spells because it is too hard to breathe. This can lead to periods of apnea. Take your infant to a doctor immediately if you suspect this type of cough.
This is a common lung infection among infants and children under the age of two. A virus almost always causes bronchiolitis. It is often caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The result is inflammation and congestion in the small airways (bronchioles) of the lungs. The cough produced often sounds like a wheezing cough. If a child develops wheezing, a visit to a pediatrician is essential to determine the source of the cough. Although this type of cough is a sign of bronchiolitis, it may also be caused by pneumonia, asthma or some throat blockage. A pediatrician may order an inhaler or nebulizer treatments if symptoms persist.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus aka RSV
Babies who are six months and younger who have coughs and colds should be monitored closely. Infants at this age are at high risk of developing RSV or respiratory syncytial virus. This virus typically occurs during the winter. In older children and adults, RSV can trigger colds and ear infections. In infants, it can lead to pneumonia, bronchiolitis and other respiratory issues. The symptoms may be similar to those of a common cold, but they can worsen. A baby may develop a cough, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Infants that are diagnosed with RSV are usually admitted to a children’s hospital for treatment due to the seriousness of the illness.
A barky cough is usually brought about by croup. Croup is often triggered by a change in temperature, allergies or a viral upper respiratory infection (cold). Croup occurs when the throat becomes inflamed causing swelling around the vocal cords. The inflammation causes difficulty breathing. A pediatrician may suggest using a cool-mist humidifier, taking the child into a steam-filled bathroom, or if it is cold outside, going outside for a bit.
An infant cough may be accompanied by phlegm. A “wet cough” may sound like a rattling in the chest or a gurgling sound. This type of cough usually occurs during the latter part of a cold or from postnasal drip. Postnasal drip can cause a sore throat. Call a pediatrician if your child develops vomiting, fever, difficulty breathing, lack of appetite or lethargy.
Asthma can be difficult to diagnose in infants. It is often difficult to diagnose until a child is around age three because babies have frequent respiratory symptoms such as coughing. If you suspect your infant has asthma, a pediatrician will ask about symptoms, family history and possible triggers. Blood tests or a chest x-ray may be taken. Sometimes, physicians order asthma medicines to see if they work. If your pediatrician is still not sure if your child has asthma, take them to a pediatric allergist or pulmonologist.
Tips On How To Treat Infant Cough
Most medications for treating a child’s cough are not suitable for children below six years of age. Parents often have to look for alternatives to soothe a child’s symptoms. Fortunately, there are ways to help keep a little one comfortable.
Prepare meals that are easy to digest
Infants who have a fever and runny nose may lose their appetites, but they still need sustenance to fight off an infection. Prepare baby food that is soft, easy to digest and nutritious as this will boost the immune system. Try bananas, soup and softened crackers if your little one is starting to eat solids.
A fever can cause sweating which means losing fluids. This can lead to dehydration which worsens any condition. Keep your little one hydrated as this can help fight off infection.
Use a cool-mist humidifier
Nasal congestion caused by a stuffy nose can make it hard for a baby with an infant cough to breathe deeply. Alleviate this problem by installing a cool-mist humidifier to increase the level of moisture in the air.
Use saline drops
Since giving medications to infants and young children is not advisable, many parents look for alternatives. Saline drops alleviate some difficulty with breathing. Saline drops can thin the mucus in the nose and throat and shrink the swollen airways. These drops should only be used two to three times a day to avoid the nose becoming sore and irritated. Check with your pediatrician before administering saline drops.
Elevate the head
For babies who have difficulty breathing, elevate the head of the bed a few inches. Place some books under the legs of the crib, or put a rolled up towel under the head of the mattress.
Try over-the-counter medications
There are instances when a low-grade fever accompanies a cough or sneeze. If the baby is a month old, talk to a doctor. For babies three to six months old, acetaminophen may be given every four to six hours depending on the recommendation of the pediatrician. Use the syringe that comes with the medicine, and avoid using a regular spoon. Paracetamol or ibuprofen are also options, but these should be administered every six to eight hours. These medications should not be given at the same time due to the risk of overdose.
Massage the chest
Another treatment is to apply some Vicks Baby Rub, and massage the sick child’s chest. This treatment comes with some rosemary, eucalyptus and lavender which create a soothing effect.
Related How Is Infant Massage Performed
Find some cold air
Exposing babies who have croup to cold air may help. Bundle a baby well if you are going outside in the cold. If it is not cold outside, stand in front of a fridge or near an open freezer so that the blast of cold air can alleviate the cough.
If a baby’s infant cough comes with a stuffy nose that makes breathing difficult, another way to treat it is to increase the humidity levels. Create some steam by running a hot shower. Once the bathroom is filled with steam, bring the baby inside, and sit there for about 10 to 15 minutes. Do this twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
Rely on breast milk
Since many medicines may not be given to infants when they have a cough or the flu, the next best thing is breast milk. Breast milk contains antioxidants and nutrients that boost a baby’s immune system.
Use nasal aspirators
A baby may not be able to expel mucus that has clogged the nose and throat. A little assistance can remove the mucus. A nasal aspirator clears clogged airways, especially when combined with saline drops. The suction draws out the mucus without irritating a baby’s nose. Make sure your pediatrician supports the use of a nasal aspirator.
Practice proper hygiene
To avoid spreading germs, parents and babies should wash their hands often. This prevents transferring germs from objects or surfaces to the mouth, eyes and other parts of the body.
Choose appropriate clothing
Dress children appropriately based on the weather and their condition. Do not take children out when they are sick. A children with a fever should be dressed in loose clothing to help bring the high temperature down.
Letting a baby rest is another useful treatment for an infant cough as it gives the body time to recuperate and fight the infection.
When To Bring A Baby To The Doctor
Many times, a baby’s cough may be triggered by the common cold or flu. Any illness of either category is usually due to a virus which means that a doctor will not provide antibiotics. OTC cough medicine or cold medications may be used to treat the symptoms as the child’s immune system fights the virus.
There are times when going to the doctor is necessary, especially when the following symptoms appear:
- Breathing problems particularly when inhaling
- Discoloration of the lips
- Rapid breathing or erratic breathing
- Whooping sound
- High-grade fever
- Discolored phlegm such as colored black or streaks of blood
- Long-term cough or cold symptoms that persist after a week.
A Word About Dosage Safety
Never try to treat a cough or cold in an infant using adult dosages. Antibiotics should be used for bacterial infections only as they do not affect viruses.
Some home remedies can be harmful as well. The use of honey to soothe sore throats is a favorite among adults. In children under the age of one, honey can be dangerous as it can cause infant botulism. If a fever or other symptoms like lethargy or vomiting are present, bring the baby to a children’s hospital for immediate medical attention. Treating an infant cough may not require medicines, but there are still ways to soothe the discomfort. Follow the tips mentioned above to help give your baby a chance to recuperate faster.
Infant Cough Resources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Pertussis (Whooping Cough), August 07, 2017.
 Stanford Children’s; Upper Respiratory Infection (URI or Common Cold).