It's natural to worry when our children are feeling sick or uncomfortable, and a persistent cough can be especially concerning. Coughing can be a symptom of several different conditions, including allergies.
As such, parents need to know the warning signs and symptoms to understand how best to care for their children. Continue reading to learn about allergies and their impact on young ones, arming you with the knowledge to navigate this concern.
What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Allergy-Related Cough in Children?
Allergies, while often associated with sneezing and itchy eyes, can also manifest as a persistent cough. There are also other causes of coughing in children such as viral infections. Identifying the underlying causes and recognizing the accompanying symptoms is essential for effective management.
Causes of Allergy-Related Cough:
- Airborne allergens: Common airborne allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores can trigger allergic reactions. These tiny particles can be inhaled, leading to irritation in the airways and resulting in a cough.
- Environmental factors: Environmental triggers such as smoke, strong odors/perfumes, and pollution can exacerbate an existing cough. These irritants can inflame the respiratory passages, causing children to cough as their bodies attempt to clear the irritants and restore normal breathing.
- Food allergies: Certain foods can induce allergic reactions that extend beyond the digestive system. When ingested, allergenic foods can trigger a severe immune response (anaphylaxis) that may manifest as coughing, wheezing, and throat tightness.
- Allergic rhinitis: Often referred to as hay fever, allergic rhinitis involves nasal congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose. The postnasal drip associated with this condition can lead to throat irritation and persistent coughing.
Symptoms of Allergies:
- Persistent cough: An allergy-related cough tends to persist for more than a week. It's often more noticeable at night or early in the morning, disrupting sleep and daily activities.
- Runny or stuffy nose: Children with allergies may experience nasal congestion, sneezing, and runny nose. The nasal passages become inflamed, causing these symptoms.
- Watery eyes: Allergies can cause the eyes to become red, itchy, and watery. This allergic reaction, known as allergic conjunctivitis, often occurs alongside a cough.
- Throat irritation: The constant drip of mucus from the back of the nose into the throat (postnasal drip) can lead to throat irritation, triggering bouts of coughing.
- Wheezing: In some cases, allergies can lead to wheezing and breathing difficulties. Wheezing is caused by narrowed airways, which make breathing harder and produce a high-pitched sound during exhalation.
Understanding these causes and symptoms empowers parents to proactively manage allergy-related coughs in children. Consultation with a pediatrician can provide personalized guidance and treatment strategies to ensure the well-being of your child.
Common Allergens that Trigger Cough in Kids
Several allergens can trigger coughing in children. These include:
Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds are prevalent outdoor allergens that can trigger allergic rhinitis and lead to coughing in kids, especially during peak pollen seasons. When the pollen enters the lungs, it can cause asthma-like symptoms, such as chest tightness and coughing due to inflammation.
Microscopic dust mites thrive in bedding, carpets, and upholstery. Their feces and body fragments can become airborne, leading to allergic reactions and coughing in sensitive children.
Mold spores are often found in damp environments, such as basements and bathrooms. Inhaling these spores can trigger allergies and respiratory symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
Proteins found in pet dander, saliva, and urine can cause allergic reactions in sensitive kids. Exposure to pet allergens, especially from cats and dogs, can result in irritation of the throat, which can lead to coughing.
Cockroach droppings and body parts contain allergens that can become airborne and trigger allergic reactions, including coughing, in children who are exposed to them.
Exposure to secondhand smoke can irritate the airways and lead to persistent coughing in children, especially those with respiratory sensitivities. Tobacco also affects children with underlying asthma, making it more challenging to manage the condition.
Perfumes and Fragrances
Strong fragrances found in perfumes, air fresheners, and cleaning products can act as irritants and lead to coughing in sensitive individuals, including children. Most fragrances contain allergens, like lanolin, amyl cinnamal, benzyl alcohol, and citral, which can trigger an allergic reaction in the throat and lungs.
In some cases, cold, dry air can trigger coughing in children with sensitive airways, similar to an allergic response. Cold air-induced cough typically presents as a dry, persistent cough that occurs shortly after exposure to cold air. The cough might be triggered by outdoor activities in cold weather or by entering air-conditioned spaces.
Irritants and Pollution
Airborne irritants such as pollution, strong odors, and chemicals can lead to coughing in children, especially those with underlying respiratory sensitivities or asthma. When exposed to these irritants, the airways become inflamed and more sensitive to further irritation, causing a cough.
Differentiating Allergic Cough from Other Cough Types
Differentiating between allergic coughs and other types of coughs can be challenging, especially in young children. However, certain characteristics and accompanying symptoms can help distinguish an allergic cough from other types of coughs. Here are some factors to consider:
- Duration and persistence: An allergic cough is often persistent and chronic, especially during specific seasons or when exposed to allergens. It can last for weeks or even months if the allergen exposure continues. On the other hand, coughs caused by acute respiratory infections (such as colds or flu) are usually temporary and tend to improve as the infection clears up.
- Timing and triggers: An allergic cough often worsens or is triggered by exposure to allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or specific foods. It’s usually worse outdoors or during certain times of the day, such as early morning and late evening.
- Sound: An allergic cough tends to be dry, non-productive (no phlegm), and sometimes accompanied by wheezing. Likewise, the cough may sound hoarse or occur with a barking noise. On the other hand, productive coughs due to infections tend to be wet, accompanied by phlegm or mucus, and may be accompanied by chest congestion.
- Accompanying symptoms: Allergy-related coughs are accompanied by other allergic symptoms such as sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and skin reactions like hives or eczema. These accompanying symptoms are usually absent in coughs caused by infections.
- Response to medications: Coughs caused by bacterial or viral infections might improve with appropriate antibiotics or antiviral medications. However, an allergic cough might improve when taking antihistamines or allergy medications. Allergy medications can temporarily relieve allergy symptoms but may not fully eliminate the cough if the allergen exposure continues.
Cough Treatment and Management
When a child has an allergy-related cough, the primary goal of treatment is to reduce or eliminate the exposure to allergens. This might involve avoiding triggers such as pets, dust mites, and mold. Other cough treatments include:
- Antihistamines: OTC or prescription antihistamines can help manage allergic reactions and reduce coughing caused by allergies.
- Nasal corticosteroids: These sprays reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, alleviating symptoms like nasal congestion and postnasal drip that contribute to coughing.
- Decongestants: Decongestants can provide temporary relief from nasal congestion and postnasal drip-related cough.
- Cough Suppressants: OTC cough suppressants can help alleviate the urge to cough, especially during nighttime.
Use a humidifier to add moisture to indoor air, which can help prevent the airway lining from drying out and reduce coughing. Humidifiers can also make the air less irritating to breathe, which can help during allergy season.
Ensure your child drinks enough fluids to maintain adequate hydration. This keeps the airway mucous membranes moist, which can reduce coughing. It also helps thin the mucus, making it easier to cough up.
If your child has severe allergies or asthma, ensure you have an emergency action plan, including prescribed medications like epinephrine for severe allergic reactions. Talk to your child's doctor if you need help developing or reviewing an emergency plan.
If your child has symptoms of allergies, allergy testing can tell you precisely what allergens they're sensitive to so you can avoid those triggers. Talk with your child's doctor about having them tested for allergies and creating a long-term treatment plan that addresses both the cause and symptoms.
In moderate and severe cases, allergists might recommend allergy immunotherapy to desensitize the immune system to specific allergens over time. This type of therapy has been used for decades and is generally safe when done under medical supervision. Sublingual immunotherapy is great for children (5 years and above) because it can reduce or even eliminate the need for long-term allergy medications.
When to Seek Medical Help
If you're unsure about the cause of your child's cough, it's recommended to seek medical evaluation, especially if the cough is persistent, severe, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms. A healthcare professional, such as a pediatrician or allergist, can perform a thorough assessment, consider the child's medical history, perform relevant tests (such as allergy testing or lung function tests), and provide a proper diagnosis.
In many cases, accurate differentiation may require the expertise of a medical professional. If you suspect an allergic cough or your child's cough is causing significant discomfort, it's essential to seek medical advice to ensure appropriate management and treatment of the condition.
Take Our Allergy Assessment and Get Treatment Today
Discovering the proper treatment for your child's allergies is essential for their well-being. Wyndly offers personalized treatment plans to manage allergies in kids aged five and up.
Our comprehensive approach ensures your child receives the personalized care they deserve, helping them breathe freely and enjoy a healthier life. Ready to take the next step? Start by taking our allergy assessment today. Your child's relief is just a click away.