Coughing in children: What can help if your child has a lung infection

Children often have a cough during the colder seasons. Find out here when you should go to the doctor, what helps ease a cough and improves your child’s well-being.

How does a child develop a cough?

Regardless of whether a child or an adult has a cough: a cough is not an illness itself, but rather a protective mechanism of the airways when the self-cleaning function of the lungs is impaired and the cilia on the mucous membranes help expel small foreign particles and microorganisms.

There are actually millions of cilia on the mucosal membranes of the airways that gently move back and forth. The cilia have a fine coating of mucus that traps pathogens such as bacteria, fungi or viruses, as well as dust, pollen and other small molecule. The movement of the cilia transports these along with the mucus towards the throat, at which point the mucus is either swallowed or coughed up.

This effective cleaning system is, however, impaired if the airways are infected. In this case, more and thicker mucus is produced which is then difficult to transport out of the lungs and which builds up on the mucous membrane. The body responds to this by coughing to remove the mucus from the airways.

Your child has a cough: At what point do you go to the doctor?

  • Bei Atemnot: Sofort den Notarzt kontaktieren
  • Bei starkem, langanhaltendem oder anfallsweisem Husten: Kinderarzt aufsuchen
  • Bei Säuglingen mit Husten IMMER zum Arzt gehen

Auch wenn der Husten mit Fieber einhergeht und sich Ihr Kind nicht seinem üblichen Wesen entsprechend verhält, sollten Sie Ihr Kind einer Ärztin oder einem Arzt vorstellen.

1. Drink plenty with a cough

If your child has a cough they should certainly drink plenty. This indirectly helps moisten the irritated mucous membranes via the bloodstream. It also makes the mucus in the airways thinner, making it easier for your child to cough up. Warm drinks such as sage tea or thyme tea are ideal.

2. Inhalation with a nebuliser

If your child has a cough they should inhale saline solution with a nebuliser, such as the PARI BOY Junior or the PARI COMPACT2. Inhalation moistens and calms the airways. It also makes it easier to loosen the mucus in the bronchial tubes and leaves a pleasant sensation in the throat and airways.

It is also worth noting that isotonic saline solution (NaCl 0.9%) moistens the bronchial tubes and is as beneficial and natural for the airways as a walk in the salty sea air.

When inhaling hypertonic saline solution the focus is on liquifying the mucus in the airways. This happens due to the increased salt content in the lungs, which causes osmosis. If your child inhales hypertonic saline solution they can cough up the mucus better. PARI offers two hypertonic saline solutions: MucoClear 3% and MucoClear 6%. Inhalation devices, suitable masks and mouthpieces for children of any age and a range of PARI inhalation solutions are available in pharmacies and online shops.

Sometimes inhaling hypertonic saline solution makes the cough more intense. In this case, you can mix hypertonic saline solution with isotonic saline solution (NaCl 0.9%) to reduce the urge to cough. Your child will still benefit from the mucus-releasing effect thanks to the slightly elevated salt content.

Remember: If you inhale hot salt water in a cooking pot, only the water will evaporate but not the salt. The salt stays behind in the pot and cannot have any benefit in the airways.

» read more: The myth of steam inhalation – why steam does not help for coughs

3. What helps against a painful cough

If your child finds coughing painful, moist heat (chest wraps, a damp towel plus a hot water bottle) and gentle massage as well as stroking the chest may help. Here you can find an exact explanation and further tips on dealing with a painful cough. Special caution is advised for a painful cough and it is strongly recommended that you arrange a visit to the doctor.

4. Breathing exercising and breathing aids to release the mucus

While coughing is a protective mechanism and is important to expel mucus from the lungs, it is also strenuous. There are breathing techniques and devices that can help transport the secretions and that can be used to gently cough up the mucus. But first the child has to learn the breathing techniques (from school age). However, your child can use a breathing aid directly and benefit from the mobilisation of the secretions.

Breathing techniques

» explore more helpful breathing techniques die that both adults and children can use

Breathing aids

A PEP system such as the PARI O-PEP helps to loosen mucus in the lungs. When your child breathes out through the device, a ball inside the mechanism rotates and so sets the air vibrating. These vibrations are then transmitted to the mucus in the bronchial tubes as your child breathes out where they then loosen the mucus from the bronchial walls. The PARI O-PEP is suitable for children from the age of five years and is available in the pharmacy or online shops.

5. Exercises to expel mucus from the lungs

Simple exercises help mobilise mucus in the lungs. These include:

  • Crescent moon position: Your child lies down on their back flat on the floor (on a mat or soft rug). Then they put one leg after another on the same side. Then they turn their head and shoulders in the same direction, so that the side of their chest is stretched. Your child then takes the arm on the stretched side and raises it above their head to further extend the stretch. If you look at your child from above, their position will resemble a crescent moon. Your child should breathe in and out deeply 4 to 8 times in this position and then switch sides.
  • Screw exercise: The screw exercise is a static exercise that stretches the chest itself. Click here for instructions with images of the screw exercise.
  • Bow and arrow: The name of this exercise is derived from the movement sequence. This is reminiscent of the movement of drawing a bow. Your child also does this exercise lying on the floor and can so loosen the mucus with the stretch and mobilisation of the chest. Click here for instructions with images on the bow and arrow movement.

» more exercises that shift mucus from the lungs

More information on acute infections in children and helpful tips

On our blog you can find more helpful information and tips if your child is acutely ill.

Note: The information in this blog post is not a treatment recommendation. The needs of patients vary greatly from person to person. The treatment approaches presented should be viewed only as examples. PARI recommends that patients always consult with their physician or physiotherapist first.

An article written by the PARI BLOG editorial team.

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