Parent’s Cheat Sheet: Describing coughs (and other noises) to the doctor

Describing Cough to DoctorWhen children come down with respiratory illnesses, they make lots of noises. The words parents use to describe these noises don’t always agree with how the doctors use the terms. Here’s the lowdown on the noises kids make when they have a cold or the flu.

  1. Congestion. This occurs with a stuffy nose and sinuses. When a child is congested, he will sound nasal because less air is passing through his nostrils when he talks. Which nostril is clogged varies throughout the day.
  2. Postnasal drip. If a child has a cold, mucus not only drips out of his nose, but some will also drip down the back of his throat. This can make his voice hoarse or raspy.
  3. Garbled voice. If a child has enlarged tonsils, he will often sound like he has “marbles” in the back of his throat.
  4. Chest rattle. Babies and young children don’t do a good job clearing mucus from their nose and throats when they have a cold. As a result, they often produce a rattle-like sound when they breathe. Parents not only hear this noise coming from the baby’s throat, but they may also feel it in the baby’s chest when he’s being held. A chest rattle is not usually a sign of pneumonia.
  5. Dry cough. This refers to a cough that has a rough, staccato quality.
  6. Wet cough. This refers to a cough that has a moist quality. It usually happens if a child has postnasal drip or bronchitis. Contrary to what many people believe, bronchitis in children is usually a viral disease and does not require antibiotics.
  7. Croupy cough. If a child has croup, his trachea becomes swollen below the vocal cords. This creates a hoarse voice and a barky, seal-like cough.
  8. Stridor. This sound is made during inspiration. It’s a brassy sound associated with a sense of difficulty getting air into the lungs. This is most commonly heard in children with croup: they “bark” when they cough and have stridor when they breathe in.
  9. Whoop. A classic whoop is heard with pertussis (whooping cough). The whoop is dramatic and occurs after a child has had a prolonged coughing fit. Nowadays, pertussis is more likely to be seen in older children or adolescents rather than babies or toddlers. An older child is more likely to “gasp” than whoop when he takes a breath after a prolonged coughing spell.
  10. Wheezing. This sound is made primarily during expiration. It’s a medium to high-pitched noise that sounds like the word. It is produced when a child’s bronchial tubes are tight (asthma) or narrowed with mucus (bronchitis, asthma). If a wheezing child is having respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), you may notice certain things when he breathes in: (1) his nostrils flare and (2) the spaces between his ribs pull in (“retract”).
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What is pediatric oral allergy syndrome?

Pediatric Oral Allergy SyndromeMost food allergies manifest themselves with non life-threatening reactions such as facial swelling or hives. That being said, it’s important to let the doctor know if your child has had an allergic reaction to a food. This will not only reduce the possibility of a serious reaction in the future, but you will be taught how to deal with such reactions.

Oral allergy syndrome is not a serious food allergy. Instead, it’s a mild reaction to foods that many people have not heard about. It occurs when someone experiences an itchy or tingling sensation in his mouth or throat after eating certain foods. The person does not get hives, facial swelling or other symptoms associated with a potentially serious food allergy.

Oral allergy syndrome is seen in people with spring and summer pollen allergies. It turns out that certain food have an allergen (something a person can be allergic to) that cross reacts in people who are allergic to certain types of pollen. Here are some examples.

If you’re allergic to birch pollen, you may react to apples, pears, cherries, plums, peaches, kiwi, celery, carrots, parsley, hazelnuts and almonds. If you’re allergic to grass, you may react to tomatoes, melons, celery, peaches and oranges.

The most interesting thing about oral allergy syndrome is that the person will not have symptoms if he eats the same food after it’s been cooked. In other words, apples cause symptoms, but applesauce does not. The reason you don’t react to the cooked food is because the allergen is destroyed when the food is processed.

Make it easier for young children to use asthma inhalers

When children with asthma get to be two or three years of age, most doctors switch from nebulizers to handheld devices called metered dose inhalers (MDIs). There are two advantages to MDIs. First, they deliver inhaled medication faster than nebulizers. Instead of taking five or more minutes to complete the treatment, MDIs get the job done in less than a minute. Second, the size of the particles coming out of MDIs is smaller than nebulizers and therefore can penetrate deeper into a child’s bronchial tubes. Spacers comes with or without a mask that covers the nose and mouth. Younger children use the mask version.

Despite these advantages, some children do not like the aftertaste of the medications used with MDIs. A great way to reduce this unpleasant taste is to tell your child you are going to give him two treats with his medicine. The first treat consists of a couple of chips that he can eat before he uses the inhaler. The chips coat the mouth with a salty/oily flavor that reduces the unpleasant taste. The second treat can be a small piece of candy or something else he can have once he’s finished. If you are opposed to giving your child candy as a reward for taking medication, a piece of cheese and a glass of juice may work as well.