The Most Effective At-Home Cough Remedies for Kids

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It’s common for children to develop coughs and colds as they’re exposed to germs. It’s difficult to see your child sick, but illness is inevitable and helps develop children's immune systems. Fortunately, the common cold can most often be treated with at-home remedies by helping your child rest and remain comfortable. 

The common cold is caused by viruses and can vary in terms of severity. Coughs can last up to two weeks, so while the illness may linger, you can generally manage your child’s symptoms on your own if no complications arise. 

Children with coughs should be encouraged to rest and stay hydrated. Learn more about the most effective at-home cough remedies you can use, as well as signs your child may need to visit the doctor. 

Cough Syrups and Drops

How you treat your child’s cough depends on both the sound of their cough and their age. If you have a younger child, reaching for the cough syrup may not be an option, as most labels state these products should not be given to children under six.

If your child is under the age of two years old, never give them cold and cough products with decongestants and antihistamines without asking a healthcare provider.

There’s also some debate about whether cold medicine is effective in treating coughs.

An extensive review of studies published by Cochrane Reviews concluded, "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."

Cough syrup is also known as a combination medicine because it can treat more than one symptom. This means cough medicine is also more likely to cause side effects and comes with overdose risks.

Cough drops may help your child's cough but should not be given to children under four because they are a choking hazard.

Natural Cough Remedies

There are several options available to parents who prefer to treat their children's coughs with more natural home remedies. Here are a few at-home treatment options for keeping your child comfortable.

Humidifiers

Using a humidifier can help ease your child's symptoms by adding moisture to the air. Humidifiers help loosen mucus, which can alleviate coughs and congestion.

Cool air humidifiers are recommended for children for safety reasons and are considered as effective as warm air humidifiers. Run the humidifier during the day while your child is awake and in the room where they're sleeping at night.

If you don't have a humidifier, you may find sitting in the bathroom with your child while running a hot shower can help ease congestion. Use a towel to block the doorway to trap in the steamy air.

Honey

You can offer children one and older a homemade remedy of honey dissolved in warm water with lemon. Honey is not recommended for infants because of the risk of botulism.

Honey appeals to children because it is naturally sweet, and it can help fight infection due to its bacterial suppressing properties. It also helps soothe sore throats.

There's no limit to how much honey you can offer your child, but parents should be mindful of its high sugar content.

Fluids

Keeping your child hydrated is important when they have a cough. Fluids will keep their airways moist and help their body fight the illness.

Be sure to offer water, breastmilk, or formula consistently when your child is not feeling well. Babies should not be given water before six months because it can lead to hyponatremia.

If your child is resisting fluids, try offering a popsicle for hydration and to help soothe their sore throat.

Saline Drops

You've probably used saline drops on your baby to help clear their nose in the past. These drops are beneficial when your child has a cold because they soften mucus and make it easier to expel.

Saline drops are considered safe and may be used in conjunction with a nasal aspirator or tissue, depending on your child's age. To administer saline drops, tilt your child's head back, then squeeze the drops into each nostril.

Repeat as necessary to help reduce congestion—especially at bedtime.

Elevation

Keeping your child's head elevated when sleeping can be effective for preventing post nasal drip. When lying flat, mucus is more likely to accumulate in the back of the throat, leading to more coughing.

It should be noted that pillows are not recommended for infants and younger toddlers. Do not use a pillow for children who are under a year and a half.

If you consider elevating your child's crib mattress, consult your pediatrician for advice on doing so safely.

When to Visit the Doctor

Most often, your child's cold symptoms will resolve on their own. However, if your child's symptoms are worsening, it may be time to call the doctor's office.

The on-call nurse will use the information given to determine whether you should continue treating your child's symptoms at home or if they should be seen for an in-office visit.

Your child may need to be seen if they:

  • Have a cough that has lasted for more than 10 days.
  • Complain of chest or neck pain.
  • Run a fever (over 100.4˚F) for more than three days.
  • Tug at their ears, which could signal an ear infection.

More severe symptoms include:

  • Extreme lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A blue tinge to the skin, lips, or nails

Bring your child to the nearest emergency room if they begin exhibiting any of these more serious symptoms.

Other Causes of Coughs

If your child's cough symptoms aren't improving or are getting worse, another illness could be to blame. The pediatrician will evaluate your child's breathing and may order a chest X-ray to determine the cause of their illness.

Tight, barking coughs are often caused by croup. Children with croup will generally have a fever and cough more at night. Croup is treated with steroids prescribed by a doctor.

Chronic coughs may be a result of allergies or asthma. If your child's doctor suspects allergies, you can request a referral to an allergist to determine the exact cause.

A Word From Verywell

Coughs are one of the most frequent childhood illnesses—hence why it's called the "common" cold! Children's coughs often linger, but if symptoms are improving with at-home treatment, chances are your child will be on the mend soon.

Remember to check the labels on all over-the-counter medication before administering it to your child to be sure it's age-appropriate. Contact your child's doctor if you have any questions about dosing.

Most colds will clear up on their own with time and rest. If symptoms don't resolve or begin to worsen, call the pediatrician to see if your child should be evaluated.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Products to Kids. Updated February 8, 2018.

  2. Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for acute cough in children and adults in community settingsCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(11):CD001831. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001831.pub5

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