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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices


Three ways to Calm a Cough


Coughing is one of the most disturbing sounds a parent can hear. It is uncomfortable, tires a child, worries the parents, and robs the entire family of sleep. Yet, a cough is an essential defense mechanism to keep the lungs clear of viruses, bacterial, and other foreign objects.

What causes a child to cough? Under normal conditions, the lining of the respiratory tract, from the nose to the lungs, continuously traps dust, viruses, bacteria, and other pollutants on a thin coat of mucus (children normally make about a pint a day). Tiny hairlike structures called cilia act like little brooms to keep this mucus and its foreign contents flowing out of the respiratory tract. When children get a respiratory tract infection, the cilia become disabled disrupting nature’s cleaning system. Coughing takes over for the inactivated cilia to help keep the airway clean. The cells of the respiratory tract compensate by producing more thick mucus to defend themselves from an invading germ.

A cough can be best handled in three ways. The first is to stop all cigarette smoking in the house. By now, anyone with children who smokes and reads these columns should be trying to quit or at the very least smoking outside! Cigarette smoke is an irritant that not only paralyzes the cilia but causes the respiratory cells to produce more mucus. A second way to make the mucus thinner and soothe irritated respiratory cells is to use water in one form or another. So when our mom told us to drink plenty of water when we were sick, she was right!

A third way is to add water directly to a child’s inflamed respiratory tract by putting more moisture in the air. This can be accomplished by using a cool mist humidifier. These devices spin water into tiny droplets propelling them into the room where they eventually land on the child’s respiratory cells making the mucus less sticky. (The newer ultrasonic humidifiers produce a cool mist of a even smaller particle size that land farther down the respiratory tract.) Another benefit of more moisture in the air is that viruses survive better when the humidity is low. That might help explain why Influenza viruses show up more during the winter months when our air has less humidity.

Some parents wonder why pediatricians usually suggest the cool mist humidifier rather than the old standby - hot steam. Cool mist has more moisture than heated water and is more effective in reducing the swelling of inflamed, congested respiratory membranes. In addition, cool mist is better at thinning out the thick secretions that cause the youngster to cough. Furthermore, heated vaporizers pose a safety hazard with the risk of accidental burns or over warming the child.

If a child is wheezing or has asthma, use of cool mist therapy could make the problem worse. Call the child's physician if the wheezing does not respond to usual treatments. In addition, humidifiers if not cleaned properly can act as incubators for viruses and bacteria present in the air. The following guidelines will help parents get the most benefit from the humidifier:

• Only use water - never add medications to the humidifier. Medicines (such as Vicks vaporub eucalyptus oil, etc.) do not help, only smell up the room, and may foul up a perfectly good humidifier. Unless advised by the child’s doctor, medications in the humidifier are unnecessary.

• Set the vaporizer several feet away from the child but not blowing directly onto a youngster’s face. Even if the humidifier blows away from the child, their clothes may become damp so check them frequently and change them as often as necessary.

• Use it primarily at night or naptime. Turn the humidifier on about ten minutes before putting the child to bed. Running the humidifier when the child is not in the room is unnecessary.

• Working properly, the humidifier should put out an easily visible column of mist. Do not allow the room to become so we that water drips down the walls and windows; this will encourage the growth of molds.

• When filling the humidifier, remove any remaining water and refill with fresh water. When not in use, dry the humidifier before putting it away.

• Clean the humidifier thoroughly after each use. Mold can grow in the unit and throw off spores that can wreak havoc with an allergy prone child. Most units come with cleaning instructions. If the model does not have cleaning directions, use the following guidelines:

(1) remove any remaining water in the reservoir

(2) Add one-half cup of household bleach to one gallon of water in the reservoir

(3) Cover the mist port with a cloth towel

(4) Turn on the humidifier for 30 minutes

(5) Remove Water in the reservoir

(6) Rinse the reservoir throughout with water

(7) Repeat the procedure every third day

 

As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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