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5 Smart Tips for How to Soothe a Cough in Children

by Vannessa Rhoades 07 Mar 2023
5 Smart Tips for How to Soothe a Cough in Children

A cough is a normal symptom that children experience as they’re exposed to different illnesses. While a cough can be uncomfortable for your little one and anxiety-inducing for you, it’s extremely common for kids. As long as your child is eating, breathing, and sleeping as usual, a cough isn’t typically anything to stress about and tends to resolve on its own. That said, it’s something caregivers should keep an eye on since it can evolve into something more serious. Here’s how to soothe a child’s cough and help them feel better, as well as signs that they may need to visit the pediatrician.

Using Medication to Soothe a Cough

How to soothe a cough depends partly on how old they are. Drugs like cough syrups and cough drops typically aren’t an option for very young children. A meeting about the safety and efficacy of cough and cold drugs for children by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2007 indicated that there were numerous reports of adverse events, including overdoses and even death, in children who used these products. Manufacturers voluntarily removed over-the-counter (OTC) infant cough and cold products intended for children under 2 years of age due to these safety concerns.

Cough and cold products for children older than 2 years of age were not impacted by the voluntary removal, and these products are still available. Manufacturers also willingly re-labeled these medications with the warning: “do not use in children under 4 years of age.” Many over-the-counter cough and cold medicines contain multiple drugs which can lead to accidental overdosing. Reading the Drug Facts label can help caregivers learn more about the active ingredients in a product.

There’s also some disagreement about whether these medications are useful for treating coughs in children. A comprehensive examination of studies published by Cochrane Reviews stated, "There is no good evidence for or against the effectiveness of OTC medicines in acute cough. This should be taken into account when considering prescribing antihistamines and centrally active antitussive agents in children; drugs that are known to have the potential to cause serious harm."

Get cough relief you can carry anywhere with Boiron Chestal Kids Meltaway Pellets. This medicine melts in your mouth to relieve dry coughs and minor throat irritations that can occur with a cold, and it loosens mucus to make coughs more productive. Each pack comes with two tubes to keep at home or take on the go.


Soothing a Cough Naturally

There are several choices for caregivers who’d rather treat their children's coughs with more natural home remedies. Let’s take a look at some effective at-home treatment options for helping your little one feel better.

1. Try honey

Honey dissolved in warm water with lemon is a soothing, natural solution for how to soothe a toddler's cough. It’s naturally sweet, soothes sore throats, and helps thin mucus to loosen the cough. Recent research has shown that honey may be as effective as the OTC cough suppressant dextromethorphan. For toddlers 12 months and older, offer one-half to one teaspoon of honey (2 to 5 mL) as needed. If you do not have honey, you can try corn syrup.

2. Run a humidifier

Creating a more humid, moist environment is another effective technique for how to soothe a dry cough. Close your bathroom door and run hot water in the shower for about 10 to 15 minutes, and let the steam build. Then sit in the room with your child, gently patting their back and chest to help loosen congestion. You can also try running a humidifier to add moisture to your child’s bedroom. Be sure to regularly clean it per the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure safety.

3. Elevate the head

Many sick children cough more at night. Excess mucus produced in your child’s nasal passages can drip down the back of their throat (postnasal drip). This drip aggravates the throat and can trigger a wet, bark-like cough and rattling sound in the upper airway (not the chest). This may be especially noticeable when your little one first wakes from sleeping. For older babies and toddlers, elevating their head a bit may help improve their breathing and can be an effective strategy for how to soothe a cough at night.

It’s important to note that pillows and other sleep positioners should never be used for babies younger than 12 months. Talk to your doctor about whether propping up the head of your baby’s crib mattress to help sleep better is an option. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission advises against the use of sleep aids, such as car seats, bouncers, and other inclined products, that place younger babies at an incline greater than 10 degrees. This can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

4. Hydrate

Push fluids when your child is ill. When there is plenty of water in the body, the mucus the body produces becomes thinner, making it easier to flow and cough up. Breastfeed babies as often as they want it, or continue offering their regular amount of formula as frequently as they need it. For babies older than six months, you can also offer water or diluted unsweetened juices. If your child is fighting fluids, try offering a frozen juice pop or Pedialyte pop for hydration and to help soothe their sore throat.

5. Use saline drops

One of the most effective home treatments for how to soothe a baby's cough is using over-the-counter (OTC) saline drops. Saline drops help thin, soften, and loosen mucus, making it easier to expel. They also keep nasal tissue from drying out. Apply two to three saline drops per nostril several times throughout the day. Saline drops are considered safe and are especially effective when used in conjunction with a nasal aspirator.

FridaBaby NoseFrida Saline Snot Spray is an all-natural, simple saline solution. And by simple FridaBaby mean two ingredients - sea salt and water - that's all! The gentle formulation moisturizes nasal passages allowing for seamless snot-sucking when used with the NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator. FridaBaby small applicator tip is specially designed for the tiniest of tots. Go ahead and spray away - use as often as needed without any harmful side effects!


When to Call the Doctor

Most coughs will resolve on their own. However, if your child's cough seems to be getting worse, it’s worth giving your pediatrician a call. Your child may need to visit the doctor if they are experiencing any of the following:

  • fever higher than 100.4˚F for more than three days
  • cough that persists longer than 10 days
  • neck or chest pain
  • tugging at their ears (a sign of a possible ear infection)

Other more serious symptoms that require urgent medical care include:

  • extreme lethargy
  • a blue tinge to the skin, lips, or nails
  • any cough — wet or dry — with wheezing or rapid breathing or difficulty breathing

The Takeaway

Coughs are one of the most common cold symptoms children experience. Coughing helps the body remove potentially harmful germs and irritants. In young children, dry coughs may be caused by illness, asthma, allergies, and other irritants. Natural home remedies are often an effective treatment, and in some cases, OTC cough medications may provide relief. Talk to your doctor about what is appropriate for your child based on their age. Most coughs will improve within a week or two, but get in touch with your doctor if it’s been more than 10 days.

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