Kids and Toddler Cough

When your little one is coughing there’s nothing you want more than to be able to make them feel better. And unfortunately it’s not uncommon for kids and toddlers to come down with a cough or cold several times a year.  As kids get older their immune systems build up resistance and become stronger.

According to Pediatrician, Dr. David Hill, coughing is responsible for more doctor visits than any other symptom. It is important to assess your child or toddler’s cough symptoms in order to determine whether the child needs to be seen by a pediatrician or nurse practitioner.




Common Causes of Cough in Toddlers & Kids

There are many causes of a child’s cough and in most cases it’s caused by a cold virus, but a cough can be an indication of something more serious that requires medical attention.

Please keep in mind that this information is provided as reference information only and is not to be taken as specific medical advice for any individual diagnosis.  Whenever you have cause for concern about a child’s coughing please consult with your pediatrician or your medical provider.



Some of the most common causes of coughing in toddlers and kids are included below:

Common Cold / Upper Respiratory Infections – Call the doctor if cold symptoms don’t get better in 10 to 14 days, it may be an indication of a bacterial infection or something more serious.

Whooping Cough / Pertussis - A severe cough, where each cough can last for 15 to 30 seconds and is then followed by a distinctive whooping sound. This is a childhood disease that is preventable with the pertussis vaccination. If your child’s cough sounds as if it may be whooping cough you should contact your pediatrician.

Croup – A cough that produces a barking sound. Croup is caused by swollen vocal chords and airways and is often worse during the night. Most cases of croup last 6 to 9 days and are not dangerous, although a severe case can be potentially serious.  Call the doctor if your child has breathing difficulty, high fever, or stridor.  Stridor may be present in severe cases of croup and is a high pitch sound that occurs during inhaling when coughing or crying. It is caused by swollen narrowed airways.

Pneumonia – A child can develop pneumonia after a long bout with a cold or upper respiratory infection.  Contact your doctor if cold and cough symptoms persist for longer that three weeks.

Asthma – Children with asthma may have some or all of the following symptoms: Coughing, wheezing, and/or difficult breathing.  If these symptoms persist for more that 2 weeks or become severe, contact your pediatrician for evaluation.

Sinus Infection / Sinusitis – When a child has had a cough and cold for more than three weeks it may progress into sinusitis, or sinus infection.  Sinusitis can last for 10 to 14 days with the child continuing to experience cold and cough symptoms during this period.  When symptoms last more than 3 weeks it is always recommended to see the doctor to confirm a diagnosis of the problem.

Bronchitis – Children have the same symptoms with bronchitis, a viral infection of the upper airway, as they do with a cold.  If symptoms persist for 3 weeks or longer get in touch with your doctor’s office.



Are OTC Cough Medicines Safe for Kids & Toddlers?

Over the counter (OTC) cough or cold medications do not have significant data indicating these medications are effective.  And in fact, studies conducted on the effects of OTC cough medicines on children have now found that these medications can pose more dangers than benefits when given to children.

The makers of OTC cough medicines now have voluntarily added warning labels on these medications stating that it is not advisable to use them in children younger than four years old.

Pediatrician Dr. David Hill does not ordinarily even recommend OTC cough medicine for children under the age of six, and as a matter of fact for kids over age six, while it may be safe to use, he still doesn’t believe the OTC medications really help with kids coughing.



Toddler Cough Remedies & Kids Cough Remedies

When toddlers and kids have a chesty, wet cough you want to use a cough expectorant remedy and not a cough suppressant.  An expectorant will help the body’s natural process along and help the cough to become more productive by loosening up the phlegm so it’s easier for the child to cough it up.

For children with a dry cough you want to use a cough suppressant remedy that will lessen the urge to cough by blocking the cough reflex.

Remedies for Toddler / Kids Cough at Night & First Thing in A.M.
Often times coughing worsens at night time.  One contributing factor is that when the child lays down in bed, the change in position causes the mucus in the child’s nasal passages and sinuses to drip down the back of their throat which can trigger coughing.

Another contributing factor to night time coughing is dry air, perhaps because of the heater drying the air in the room.

In the mornings sometimes kids will also experience excessive coughing when they first get up.  Again the change in position causes the mucus to move around and as a result triggers coughing spells.

The solution:   Keep kids hydrated because that helps thin the mucus and helps them to cough it up, spit it out, and blow it out easier.  Also keep the air in the room moist with humidifiers, vaporizers, and even use steam treatments.  See below for some helpful info on steam treatment remedies for toddler coughing and kids coughing.



Chest Physical Therapy
Another treatment that can help to loosen phlegm is called chest physical therapy.  Watch Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears, host on the Doctors TV program, as he demonstrates this technique in the video below at the 2:45 point.

Chest physical therapy is performed by cupping your hands and gently clapping on the child’s back.  Doing this while sitting with the child in a steamy bathroom is doubly effective.

See a demonstration of Chest Physical Therapy below at 2:45

Natural Homeopathic Cough Syrup
Although over the counter cough medicine is no longer be safe for children under the age of 4 years old, there are natural homeopathic cough syrups that are safe for toddlers and children over 6 months of age.

In the video above, The Doctors TV pediatrician, Dr. Jim Sears, recommends using Hyland’s Cough Syrup, a natural cough syrup for children and babies.

Baby Nasal Saline Spray / Drops For Cough Relief
Another safe and effective toddler cough treatment and kids cough treatment which was also recommended by Dr. Sears on the Doctors TV show is “Little Noses Baby Nasal Saline Spray/Drops.”  This nasal saline solution flushes out mucus.

Fluids for Toddler & Kids Cough
Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluid. In addition to keeping them hydrated, drinking water helps to thin out mucus which in turn makes it easier for toddlers and kids to cough it up.

Topical Toddler & Kids Cough Remedy
One very good topical cough remedy that works well for toddlers and kids (and adults too) is Vicks VapoRub topical products.

For 2-year-olds through Adults
Use the standard Vicks VapoRub Ointment  or the Vicks VapoRub Cream by applying it to the chest, neck, and back areas.  Both the ointment and the cream contain the medicated vapors from camphor, eucalyptus oil, and from menthol.  These vapors work quickly to soothe and calm a toddler’s cough.

For 3-month-olds and Over
Vicks BabyRub Soothing Aroma Ointment is a non-medicated ointment that is perfect for young toddlers.  This soothing baby ointment formula contains aloe vera with fragrances of eucalyptus, lavender, and rosemary.

One word of caution regarding the use of Vicks — It is important to use as directed on the label. Read through the simple list of instructions and stick to the standard external applications as recommended.

It is okay to rub Vicks on the bottoms of the feet and cover with socks.  This is currently a very popular remedy that works well.

But what you don’t want to do with Vicks topical products is to apply it under the nose or inside the nostrils, which may cause respiratory distress; you don’t want to apply Vicks to broken skin either, because that allows the camphor to be absorbed too quickly into your body creating unsafe levels in your body; and do not add Vicks directly to water that will be heated because that will create a large excess of strong vapors in the room causing burning and irritation to the eyes.

Honey for Toddler Cough & Kids Cough
Honey is an excellent ingredient for toddler and kids cough remedies because it’s a natural antibiotic that helps the body resist infection. Honey also helps absorb water into the tissues which soothes a dry cough.  Penn State researchers found honey improved coughs better than dextromethorphan (DM), the ingredient found in most OTC cough syrup.

DO NOT give honey to children under 12 months of age because before they are one year old the digestive tract has not developed enough to tolerate the bacterial spores that are in honey which could possibly cause infant botulism.

Warm Milk, Honey & Vanilla
Heat 1 cup milk on stovetop or in microwave to just below the boiling point.  Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons honey and  3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Honey & Lemon Cough Syrup
Place a whole lemon in a saucepan and fill with enough water to cover the lemon.  Heat the water to just below the boiling point and then simmer the lemon for five minutes. Warm up 1 cup of honey in the microwave or saucepan. Once the lemon is cool enough to handle, roll the lemon back and forth under your hand on the countertop to help get the most juice from the lemon. Cut the lemon in half and use a strainer as you squeeze the lemon’s juice into the warm honey.  Mix thoroughly and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

If your toddler or child likes grapes, then you’re in luck!  Grapes are a natural cough expectorant, so let your little one enjoy some grapes or grape juice while at the same time you’re treating that pesky cough.

Also, if you have a juicer, make your own grape juice, seeds and all, because the grape skins and the seeds contain antioxidants and Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Grape Juice & Honey
For one serving simply mix 8 ounces of natural organic grape juice with 1 teaspoon of raw honey.

Cough Drop Tea (or Juice) Minus The Cough Drop
Cough drops work great for older kids and adults, but they are a choking hazard for toddlers and some younger children.

One solution is to make a cup of warm tea, or even pour a glass of juice (warmed or chilled), and simply drop in a cough drop. Stir it around in the tea or juice, off and on for a few minutes to allow the cough drop to partially dissolve into the drink. REMOVE whatever is left of the cough drop before giving it to your toddler or child so there’s no risk of choking.

The juice or tea will have a mild flavor of the cough drop as it helps calm and soothe the child’s cough.  If the cough drop you’re using contains menthol, try and encourage the child to breathe in the aroma from the menthol as they drink the tea or juice.  This gives a little mini aromatherapy treatment as well.


For more cough remedy ideas and info please visit the following pages:
Home Remedies for Cough
Humidifiers vs. Vaporizers
Topical Cough Remedies

Cough Information Sheet
Consumer Healthcare Products Association – OTC Cough Meds and Children
Asthma in Children

4 Responses to “Kids and Toddler Cough”

  1. Ginny says:

    Can a toddler have a cough drop?

    • Lee says:

      It is not recommended to give a toddler a cough drop. First of all some cough drops contain medications and cough drops containing eucalyptus or menthol can be harmful to toddlers. Secondly, a toddler can easily get a cough drop lodged in his or her throat and choke.

  2. Megan says:

    Is there any way to keep my other kids from getting my toddler’s cough?

    • Lee says:

      You can take the following preventative measures to minimize the risk:

      -Wash hands often.
      -Use sanitizing gel or wipes when hand-washing can’t be done right away.
      -Sanitize objects that your toddler touches that the other children may come in contact with (i.e. toys, remote control, door knobs, etc.). Germs can remain active on hard surfaces for hours.
      -Try your best to teach your toddler to cough into his elbow or into a Kleenex.
      -If he has a runny nose too, throw away the used Kleenex right away as germs will remain active on tissues for hours as well.
      -If possible, keep your toddler away from his siblings.
      -Don’t let the kids share drinking glasses or other dishes and utensils.
      -Make sure to wash dishes in the dishwasher, or if by hand in very hot soapy water, to make sure they are completely sanitized.

      Of course this is all easier said than done, but certainly worth the effort! Good luck!

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