When your kid has a cough that just won't quit, it can be maddening. You just want to be able to do something, anything, to make them more comfortable, especially when they're hacking away at night. Fortunately, there are some helpful hacks for how to stop a kid's lingering cough so they feel — and sleep — better (and you do too).
Before you start treating the cough, it's important to understand what kind of cough you're dealing with because it might not be as straightforward as it seems. A lingering cough can be a sign of inflammation of the airways from a bad cold, but it can also be due to allergies or even acid reflux.
In fact, many parents think a cough is prolonged when it is actually within normal limits for a common cold. “Most viral upper respiratory tract infections can cause symptoms for seven to 10 days, [and] 10 days can feel like an eternity,” Dr. Yamileth Cazorla-Lancaster, DO, MPH, MS, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician, tells Romper. “If a cough is lasting more than 14 days, it could be caused by an overlapping viral infection (it happens more often than you would think), the development of a bacterial sinus infection, or even allergies among other things. However, technically a cough is not considered ‘chronic’ until it has lasted more than four weeks.”
How long is too long when your kid won't stop coughing? “I recommend my patients see me if they are ever having difficulty breathing, chest tightness, or wheezing with their cough,” says Cazorla-Lancaster. “Also if a cough is lasting greater than two weeks I would like to examine them, and definitely if they are having fever lasting greater than five days.”
Another thing to consider is something called cough-variant asthma, which is marked by a dry, chronic cough lasting more than six to eight weeks, and needs to be diagnosed by physician. “Cough variant asthma is not incredibly common but can be the cause of a chronic dry cough in a child that has not yet presented with wheezing or other classical symptoms of asthma,” Cazorla-Lancaster says. “The cough tends to be worse at night and may get worse with or after activity.”
When in doubt, it's always a good idea to get your pediatrician's advice. Once you know what's causing your little one's cough, it's way easier to manage. Here are six helpful cough hacks from medical experts.