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When To Really Worry? How Long Kids’ Coughs And Colds Tend To Last

The 90-percent mark for common respiratory illnesses indicates how long they can be expected to last: By this number of days, 9 out of 10 untreated children get better. Caution: Patients with severe or worrying symptoms should be examined even if still within the typical duration. (Source: BMJ, “Duration of Symptoms of Respiratory Tract Infections In Children: Systematic Review.)

The graph above shows how long symptoms typically last. A cough can last nearly four weeks, during the course of a viral upper respiratory infection. This can seem like an eternity when your child coughs more at night, often to the point of vomiting.

As a parent, you should always have your child evaluated if you feel something more serious may be going on. Close attention should be given to young infants, especially those born prematurely and children with chronic disease (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, compromised immune system).

Antibiotics generally are not necessary, and won't hasten recovery. Over-thecounter meds are rarely helpful. What does help? Elevating the head of the bed at night, running a cool mist humidifier at night (that is cleaned regularly), warm tea or lemon water with honey (if your child is over 12 months of age), and Ibuprofen as needed for discomfort.

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