As children develop, it’s not uncommon for them to experience illnesses or conditions with coughs. A cough in young children can have many causes. The vast majority are caused by viral upper respiratory infections, or common colds. If your child has a cold, their cough can linger for up to a month after the other symptoms have gone away.
An acute (short-term) cough will last less than a month. It’s usually associated with a cold or allergies. This type of cough doesn’t necessarily need a trip to the doctor. It can usually be treated at home. But a chronic cough lasting longer than four weeks should be evaluated by a pediatrician.
Though rarely serious, coughs can be miserable for parents and children. They may interrupt sleep and other usual routines, and cause crankiness.
It’s important to remember that coughing is actually good, since it helps the body free itself from mucus that clogs up your throat or nose. However, in cases where coughing persists, some home remedies can help ease your child’s symptoms.
Remedies and Treatments for Toddler Cough
Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that any medication helps relieve acute cough symptoms in children. But in addition to rest and fluids, the following remedies may provide some comfort:
Honey is proven to reduce coughing symptoms in children. In three trials with 568 children, honey was as effective as two over-the-counter cough medicines, dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine, and more successful than a placebo.
As long as your child is over the age of one, you can give them a teaspoon of honey. But children under one year old should not be given honey because it may cause infant botulism, a rare and potentially fatal illness. In some instances, botulism can cause paralysis or death.
While it may seem odd, placebos have been shown to be more effective than not giving any treatment for cough.
In one study, children were given either agave syrup, a placebo of colored sugar water, or no treatment. The children who were given agave syrup and sugar water coughed less often and less severely. Since the syrup was no more effective than the placebo, either seemed an appropriate option for reducing coughing in children.
Toddlers with a cold should drink plenty of fluids. Warm fluids help thin mucus and soothe a sore throat. Try warm water with lemon, tea, or broth to help your toddler feel better.
Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which helps loosen your sinuses. When children have a cold, their sinuses are affected. Using a humidifier might help them cough less too.
If you decide to use one, make sure it’s a cool-mist type. Steam humidifiers can cause burns.
Make sure you keep the appliance clean and free of mold. A dirty humidifier can do more harm than good because it blows out bacteria.
Sitting with your child in a warm bathroom can help too — for similar reasons as humidifiers. Steam up the bathroom and give your child a warm shower or bath before bed. But never leave a small child unattended in the bathroom.
Saline Nasal Spray and Suction
Though most toddlers will not like it, saline nasal spray and suction can help clear out the mucus causing their cough. A lot of toddler coughs are caused by postnasal drip from colds or allergies. They tend to be worse at night because lying down causes mucus to drain into the throat. Saline nasal sprays help loosen up the mucus so that it’s easier to remove with a suction bulb.
When to See a Doctor
Most children have between four and six colds a year. There’s no need to see a doctor if you suspect your child’s cough is caused by a cold. But you should contact a pediatrician for any of the following symptoms:
- Constant cough
- Barking cough
- A cough that lasts more than three weeks
- Coughing with exercise
- Wheezing with a cough
- Excessive crankiness or sleepiness
- Persistent ear pain
- Signs of dehydration, such as dark urine
If you suspect something is lodged in your child’s throat, you should seek immediate care. And get emergency care if your child has any of the following symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Bluish color around the lips
- Trouble swallowing
- Unusual drooling
- Stiff neck
- High fever
- Stridor (a high-pitched sound when breathing in)