by: Michael Kabel


Sooner or later - if it hasn't happened already - your baby will become afflicted with coughing and sneezing. Whether from a cold, the flu, or (hopefully not) something even more serious, coughs and sneezes, the symptoms are an inevitable annoyance and an unshakable part of growing up.


But what causes sneezing and coughing in the first place? Most typically allergies, respiratory infections, and bouts with viruses and bacteria contribute to their appearance. As with so many things about the human body, their workings are part of a vast and intricate system of safeguards and protections.


Coughing is like the body's smokestack.


It's common knowledge that the human body coughs to try and expel harmful material. For as much pain and discomfort as it may sometimes cause, it's a vital part of the body's attempts to get well. Bodies that trap allergens and bacteria are at increased risk of developing pneumonia.


"Wet" coughs are the body's way of removing bacteria- and allergen-containing phlegm from the lungs and throat. Cough suppressants, which act to keep the body from coughing, are actually harmful in that they help contain those inflammatory elements within the body. 


Children sometimes develop what's commonly known as a dry or hacking cough. This is an example of a time when parents should give them cough suppressant medicines, as the child's body isn't expelling anything harmful. It's also okay to give cough suppressants if the cough is interfering with a child's sleep.


Chronic coughing - the kind that seemingly doesn't stop - may be a sign of asthma or other respiratory ailment. If your child's cough doesn't abate after a few days, you should consult a pediatrician.


Sneezing is a reflex meant to help.


Few things about the body are more socially awkward than spontaneous or uncontrollable sneezing. For kids, it can also be icky to clean up. Despite these unflattering facts, however, sneezing serves an important purpose.


The linings of the sinus passages, especially in children, are made of delicate layers of tissue. When the body inhales air, it takes along dirt and allergen particles made of all shapes and sizes. A sneeze is an involuntary reaction that expels those same reactants back out from the body. If not for sneezing, the entire sinus passages could become infected or filled with mucus, provoking even more discomfort. 


There are dozens of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that work to prevent the sneeze reflex. Most are not necessarily suitable for children, and parents should consult their family doctor before using any on children. In cases of extreme allergies to mold, pet dander, pollen, and other irritants, some prescription and OTC medications will act to block extreme sneezing, itchy and runny nose, and the other signs of allergy discomfort.


Keeping symptoms in perspective


It's important to remember that sneezing and coughing are not an illness in and of themselves; rather, they're a sign that the body is actively combating elements that might cause it harm. Though discomfort is often a part of that process, it's still best to encourage children to see the long-range benefit.