Coughing in Children

By Steve Smith, M.D.

It is devastating to have a child who is sick and struggling to catch his or her breath.  We are in the midst of cold and flu season, which means there’s a good chance your little one might be experiencing this in the near future.

Causes of a Cough

There are many causes to why your child might have congestion.  Dialing in the source can help to understand the treatment options.  A cough can begin from a virus or be infections in nature: Influenza, Covid-19, Croup, or the common cold.  These are often come with other symptoms like a fever, nasal congestion, headache and more.  Most children do not experience severe complications with the viruses that cause coughs, but there is important things to watch for: a fever lasting more than 3 days; lethargy or extreme fatigue; worsening symptoms over 2 or more weeks.

Relief of Symptoms

So how can you relieve your child’s chest congestion safely?  According to the Academy of Pediatrics, It is not recommended that children under the age of six take any over-the-counter cough medication.  Instead, parents can opt for the following natural solutions to ease the congestion:

Increase water intake: the body’s fluids will naturally become more dilute with proper hydration.  When we feel crummy, liquids might not be appetizing, but ensuring your child is drinking can actually shorten the course of the congestion.

Honey for children over 1 years old: Research has shown that honey is more effective than cough syrup at curtailing nighttime coughing (NIH).  Honey thins secretions and loosens the cough. Use ½ to 1 teaspoons as needed.  You can mix the honey in a warm herbal tea if preferred.

Humidity: Warm, moist air from a shower or cold air from a humidifier can help a child whose coughing reflex is being exacerbated by dryness.  

Symptoms don’t always have to be managed.  If your child is not bothered by the congestion, keep an eye on them and let the virus run its course.

For more Care Guides and information on coughs, check out our Symptom Checker