How to Stop a Cough in a Child
This page gives information on how to stop a cough in a child and on the latest research findings on the effectiveness of over-the-counter cough medicines.
To read more on the causes of cough in children, click here.
Simple Measures for a Non-specific Cough
If your child is coughing, and it is a non-specific cough, then the treatment is just simple measures such as:
- ensure your child is not exposed to tobacco smoke. If you can't give up smoking, at least ensure you smoke outside the house and you might want to consider wearing a particular smoking jacket that you remove once you've finished your cigarette as the smoke and its ill effects will linger on clothing
- if your child has a tickle in her throat, give her:
- a sip of water
- a sip of honey water
- honey lozenges
- your child probably has a viral upper respiratory tract infection (read more) so keep her fluids up so she doesn't get dehydrated
If your child has a specific cause of cough, the answer to "how to stop a cough" will depend on that cause. For example, antibiotics will be necessary for a pneumonia - read more.
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Should I use over-the-counter cough medicine for my child's cough?
The short answer is "no".
The research evidence shows no benefit from over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines over that you get from dummy medication (placebo). So any benefit you may see is probably unrelated to the medicine.
Not only that, over-the-counter cough medicines are commonly involved in childhood poisonings and are potentially dangerous.
There have been reported deaths in young children from over-the-counter cough and cold medications. There are strong recommendations from evidence from the CDC (Center for Disease Control, US) that children under 2 years of age should not be given over-the-counter cough and cold medications because there is no evidence that they work and they have caused death in young children.
So when I'm asked "how to stop a cough in a child", I say that it's best to save your money and just try simple measures for cough in your child. Non-specific cough will eventually improve by itself.
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- Chang et al. Cough in Children:definitions and clinical evaluation. MJA 2006.184(8):398-403
- Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter medications for acute cough in children and adults in ambulatory settings. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004 Oct 18;(4):CD001831.
- Schroeder K, Fahey T. Should we advise parents to administer over the counter cough medicines for acute cough? Systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Arch Dis Child. 2002 Mar;86(3):170-5.
- CDC.Infant Deaths Associated with Cough and Cold Medications. MMWR Jan 12 2007. Vol 56 (1): 1-4
- Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter medications for acute cough in children and adults in ambulatory settings. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008. Issue 1. Art No:CD001831. DOI 10.1002/14651858.CD001831.pub3
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Last reviewed 24 May 2010