Mom’s Quick Guide to the 3 A.M. Cough

by on December 21st, 2010
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Only the fear of a burglar breaking into the house at 2 a.m. surpasses the frightening sound of a child’s cough in the middle of the night. He seemed fine at bedtime, but somewhere between “Can’t I say up another hour?” and that loud hack, the cough fairy flew by and deposited a dose of symptoms. Diagnosing the cough is your first task: Barky, wheezy and hacking are a couple of types. Next up, a treatment that makes short work of the cough fairy’s gift and gets everyone back to sleep is just what the doctor ordered.

Vaporize the Cough

It may be easier to come up with an immediate diagnosis if your child has experienced symptoms of asthma or allergies in the past and you recognize the cough emanating from your child’s bedroom, but don’t count out a virus or a barky croup. Turn on the vaporizer, humidifier, de-humidifier or air purifier your doctor recommended to treat cough symptoms to see if that does the trick. If none of these appliances are on hand, a steamy shower makes a great substitute.

Call in the Big Guns

Your philosophies on treating your child may run the gamut from homeopathic to pharmaceuticals and it’s important to honor your treatment philosophy when it comes to dealing with your child’s cough, but product recalls and rising age restrictions associated with cough medications are reason enough to try basics first. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Chest Physicians recommend “a single-ingredient pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen … and a warm steam bath to loosen phlegm” at the first sign of symptoms.

Explore Plant-based Solutions

Products like Sinupret, available from health food stores, can solve your child’s cough dilemma if you’re willing to travel the homeopathic road. European parents have been using this type of plant-based, pharmaceutical-grade remedy for decades and since it supports the immune system of the child in addition to treating coughs and other symptoms, your child receives a boost of health when you administer these types of capsules or liquids. Proceed with caution. Even plant-based meds can trigger an allergic reaction, so use the lowest dose first time out.


It’s tempting to fall back on fruit-flavored anti-histamines when nothing else works. As long as the package reassures you that a spoon of the elixir is age appropriate, administering one could be the answer to everyone’s prayers. Anti-histamines don’t stop coughs, but they do quiet nasal passages, so if mouth breathing and/or an irritated throat are reasons the hacking erupted in the first place, solve the problem until the sun comes up and there’s time to cast a wider treatment net. That said, always avoid preparations that trigger hyperactivity unless watching your child bounce off the walls is your idea of a great way to spend the rest of the night.

Avoid Cough Suppressants

Pennsylvania State University Associate Professor of Pediatrics Ian Paul has waged war on cough suppressants for kids since 1997 when the most popular types of cough silencers, codeine and dextromethorphan, were proven to do nothing to relieve coughs in youngsters. Placebos proved equally effective in banishing coughs, a sure sign that there are more reasons not to doctor your child with suppressants than to administer them.

Relocate the Cat

Cat and dog removal are known to do wonders for a child’s cough, though it may not do much for a sick child’s temperament if Rufus regularly bunks on her bunk. It can take time for your child’s bed linens and possessions to build up enough dander to trigger a respiratory reaction that manifests itself as a cough, but try the temporary pet relocation solution to see if Muffin’s absence makes a difference at 3 a.m.

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