Conventional Treatment of Coughs:
by Lauren Feder, M.D.

Doctors recommend cough suppressants if your child’s cough is preventing sleep during the night, and decongestants if he also has a lot of congestion that interferes with breathing.  Expectorants (guaifenesin) help to thin out thick phlegm in the chest, making it easier to bring up.

Whooping cough will usually last approximately six weeks no matter the treatment. Standard treatment includes rest and liquids.  Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic such as erythromycin, as it is felt that the antibiotic renders your child less contagious. While it remains questionable whether the antibiotic changes the course of the illness, people are generally no longer considered contagious after the fifth day on antibiotics.

For croup, the conventional approach is to treat the fever with ibuprofen or acetaminophen. For severe cases, steroids and breathing treatments are given. Avoid any medication that would dry out the air passages, such as antihistamines or decongestants. Cough medications are usually not used, and antibiotics are of no value in viral infections.  Home treatments include parental loving support, which will help calm and relax a frightened child. Mist from the cool night air or steam from a hot shower can often offer relief. When going outside, be sure to keep your child dressed warmly.   Other than general home treatment of croup, standard medicine has little to offer for non-emergency cases. Homeopathic remedies can be helpful at the onset of croup to ease the cough—which means everyone gets a better night’s sleep. Commonly used remedies are Aconite, Drosera, Hepar sulph and Spongia tosta.
When to call the doctor

If your child has a severe cough or serious infection like whooping cough, consult your doctor.  Severe coughs can lead to dehydration, exhaustion, and difficulty breathing, which can be life-threatening. The following guidelines would also be reason to seek medical attention:

Cough with fever higher than 103F for more than three days (101 for five days)
Chest pain with cough
Wheezing (whistling) and labored or difficult breathing