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Um, Your Kid is Coughing on Me!!

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Momlogic's Jenny: I know my son isn't sick. But the problem is, the rest of the world doesn't.


My 13-month-old son has had a lingering cough for weeks. Seriously, weeks. Convinced that he has everything from Croup to the Bubonic Plague, my husband and I have now taken him to the pediatrician at least three times. The diagnosis: a virus (a.k.a. "a cold.") A cold that HAS PASSED and according to the doctor is no longer contagious. But while I know he isn't sick sick, I am still worried that others might judge me for taking him out (I saw the way you were looking at me in line at Target when he coughed!). Should I be canceling play dates or should I warn the mom that it's not contagious and just to ignore it when he sounds like he's going to cough up a lung? Most importantly, do I need to keep him home from day care or apologize that he still is "getting over it"?

I realize that as a first-time mom, I may doubt myself and what to do in these situations more than I might if I had more than one runny nosed child. But for fear that I may wind up having to just keep my son in a bubble, I asked Dr. Cara Natterson to weigh in:

1) What is the window of time that my child is actually contagious and should stay away from other children? When a child has a fever, she is generally contagious. I like the rule: Keep your kid away from others until she is fever free for 24 hours. Also, green, thick mucous coming out of the nose or a wet, harsh cough are often signs of a lingering virus. These can be contagious.

2) At what point is it okay to bring your child out in to the world (day care, play dates)? Viruses are usually gone after a few days, but a clear runny nose and a mild (sometimes even slightly wet) cough can stick around for a week or two. This is especially true among toddlers who are teething, because they will cough as they try to manage all of the drool that results from their cutting teeth. So a teething toddler may cough a little bit every day -- this doesn't mean he's sick. Here's a good way to think about it: If you feel like you have to apologize for consistently wiping your child's nose on a play date, you child shouldn't be on that play date!

3) My son is only 13 months old, should I be teaching him to cover his mouth when he coughs? Does that even make a difference? Yes! Teach this as early as possible. Better than covering the mouth with a hand, is teaching your child how to cough in to his elbow. We forget how many germs toddlers carry around on their hands -- keeping your child's hands away from his mouth is always beneficial.

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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Margaret Back November 11, 2008, 3:13 PM

Dr Natterson - you are so correct to advocate coughing and sneezing into the elbow. I cringe when I see kids and adults use their hands. Germy Wormy makes the teaching of this healthy habit fun, fast and easy. I invite you all to check it out. The less germs they give the less we can all get.

JSA December 5, 2008, 1:50 AM

Dr. Natterson, I have fallen in love with you. Not a waking moment comes by now when I don’t think of you. You’re a solid 10 out of 10.

Claire December 11, 2008, 4:16 PM

Great idea. I will try this tactic with the germy wormy. Would make a great holiday gift. The gift of wellness and education…love it!

Shawney February 12, 2009, 10:20 AM

This article really helped me understand colds a little more. My daughter was sick like two weeks ago, and still has a cough. People always ask, Is she sick? And I say, no… she is better, just still a little cough.

Shirley March 2, 2011, 12:34 PM

This is your best topic yet!

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