How To Treat Cough For aby

When your child is sick, especially when they have a cough, life can be very stressful. In addition to being uncomfortable, it may be difficult for your baby to relax and get the necessary amount of rest in order for them to feel better.

Knowing the underlying condition can help you select the home treatment that will be most effective in relieving your cough. Coughing can be a primary symptom of a number of different illnesses.

Here is how to tell the difference between the various types of coughs, when you should take your child to the pediatrician, and what you can do right now to help your child feel better.

Related: What you should know about colds in newborn babies

Is this your child’s symptom?

  • The sound made when the cough reflex clears the airway of irritants
  • Most coughs are part of a cold
  • A coughing fit or spell is over 5 minutes of nonstop coughing

Causes of Cough

  • Common Cold. Most coughs are part of a cold that includes the lower airway. The medical name is viral bronchitis. The bronchi are the lower part of the airway that go to the lungs. Bronchitis in children is always caused by a virus. This includes cold viruses, influenza and croup. Bacteria do not cause bronchitis in healthy children.
  • Air Pollution Cough. Fumes of any kind can irritate the airway and cause a cough. Tobacco smoke is the most common example. Others are auto exhaust, smog and paint fumes.
  • Serious Causes. Pneumonia, bronchiolitis, whooping cough and airway foreign object

Trouble Breathing: How to Tell

Trouble breathing is a reason to see a doctor right away. Respiratory distress is the medical name for trouble breathing. Here are symptoms to worry about:

  • Struggling for each breath or shortness of breath
  • Tight breathing so that your child can barely cry
  • Ribs are pulling in with each breath (called retractions)
  • Breathing has become noisy (such as wheezes)
  • Breathing is much faster than normal
  • Lips or face turn a blue color

When to Call for Cough (0-12 Months)

Call 911 Now

  • Severe trouble breathing (struggling for each breath, can barely cry)
  • Passed out or stopped breathing
  • Lips or face are bluish when not coughing
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Trouble breathing, but not severe
  • Nonstop coughing spells
  • Lips or face have turned bluish during coughing
  • Harsh sound with breathing in (called stridor)
  • Wheezing (high-pitched purring or whistling sound during breathing out)
  • Breathing is much faster than normal
  • Weak immune system. Examples are sickle cell disease, HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids.
  • High-risk child (such as cystic fibrosis or other chronic lung disease)
  • Fever in baby less than 12 weeks old. Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen.
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C)
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Age less than 6 months old
  • Earache or ear drainage
  • Fever lasts more than 3 days
  • Fever returns after gone for more than 24 hours
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • Coughing causes vomiting 3 or more times
  • Runny nose lasts more than 14 days
  • Cough lasts more than 3 weeks
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Cough with no other problems

Seattle Children’s Urgent Care Locations

If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, call 911.

Care Advice for a Cough

  1. What You Should Know About Coughs:
    • Most coughs are a normal part of a cold.
    • Coughing helps protect the lungs from pneumonia.
    • A cough can be a good thing. We don’t want to fully turn off your child’s ability to cough.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Homemade Cough Medicine:
    • Goal: Decrease the irritation or tickle in the throat that causes a dry cough.
    • Age 3 months to 1 year: Give warm clear fluids to treat the cough. Examples are apple juice and lemonade. Amount: Use a dose of 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml). Give 4 times per day when coughing.
    • Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old.
  3. Drugstore Medicines for Cough:
    • Cough Medicines. Don’t give any drugstore cold or cough medicines to young children. They are not approved by the FDA under 6 years. Reasons: not safe and can cause serious side effects. Also, they are not helpful. Reason: They can’t remove the tickle in the throat. They also can’t remove dried mucus from the nose. Nasal saline works best.
    • No Antibiotics. Antibiotics are not helpful for coughs. Antibiotics may be used if your child gets an ear or sinus infection.
  4. Coughing Fits or Spells – Warm Mist and Fluids:
    • Breathe warm mist, such as with shower running in a closed bathroom.
    • Give warm clear fluids to drink. Examples are apple juice and lemonade.
    • Age under 3 months. Don’t use warm fluids.
    • Age 3 – 12 months of age. Give 1 ounce (30 ml) each time. Limit to 4 times per day.
    • Reason: Both relax the airway and loosen up any phlegm.
  5. Vomiting from Hard Coughing:
    • For vomiting that occurs with hard coughing, give smaller amounts per feeding.
    • Also, feed more often.
    • Reason: Vomiting from coughing is more common with a full stomach.
  6. Humidifier:
    • If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier. Reason: Dry air makes coughs worse.
  7. Fever Medicine:
    • For fevers above 102° F (39° C), give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
    • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil). Caution: avoid ibuprofen until 6 months or older.
    • Note: Fevers less than 102° F (39° C) are important for fighting infections.
    • For all fevers: Keep your child well hydrated.
  8. Avoid Tobacco Smoke:
    • Tobacco smoke makes coughs much worse.
  9. Return to Child Care:
    • Your child can go back to child care after the fever is gone.
    • For practical purposes, the spread of coughs and colds cannot be prevented.
  10. What to Expect:
    • Viral coughs last for 2 to 3 weeks.
  11. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Trouble breathing occurs
    • Wheezing occurs
    • Cough lasts more than 3 weeks
    • You think your child needs to be seen
    • Your child becomes worse

Baby Cough When To Worry

No matter the cause of your baby’s cough, there are some sure warning signs that you need medical help. If your child is coughing and has any of the following symptoms, consider heading to your local emergency room (ER).

  • troubled or labored breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • a fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C) (children under 3 months) or higher than 102.2°F (39°C) (children over 3 months)
  • blood when coughing
  • trouble swallowing
  • difficulty opening their mouth the whole way
  • significant tonsil swelling on just one side

Other symptoms to note:

  • any cough in newborns within the first couple of weeks
  • a cough that lasts 8 weeks or longer
  • a cough that worsens with time, especially after 3 weeks
  • a cough with night sweats or weight loss
  • any cough — wet or dry — with wheezing or rapid breathing

Even if your baby doesn’t have severe signs but is acting differently than normal, it might be a good idea to at least call your pediatrician. You know your child best. Your doctor can help guide you, whether that be to take your baby to the ER or go in for an office visit.

Related: Parents advised not to give decongestants to young children

Home remedies to ease the cough

Even if your child’s symptoms aren’t serious, it can be scary waking up in the middle of the night to hear your baby hacking away. Knowing a few home remedies can give you some ideas of things to try so you don’t feel as helpless.

Consider making a kit containing certain items, such as saline and a bulb syringe, so they’re within easy reach when you need them.

1. Push fluids

Keeping your baby hydrated is key to keeping their mucus flowing and easy to cough up. If your baby’s dehydrated, their snot and other secretions may dry up and be difficult to clear away with coughing.

This means breastfeeding or offering their regular amount of formula as frequently as your child needs. Experts say extra fluids aren’t necessary, but they recommend keeping up with the normal amounts.

Stick with breast milk and formula for younger babies. Fluids may include water and unsweetened juices for older babies.

2. Use saline drops

Another way to moisten secretions is to use over-the-counter (OTC) saline drops in your baby’s nose. What does your baby’s nose have to do with coughing? With cold and flu — quite a lot.

The mucus in your child’s nose can travel down the back of their nose and throat to cause postnasal drip. This irritates the throat and produces a wet, barky cough and rattling noise in the upper airway (not chest). You may especially notice this cough after your baby wakes up.

Use two to three saline drops per nostril a few times throughout the day. Your baby may not love the sensation of the drops going into their nose, or they may sneeze. That’s OK.

3. Try suction

You can also try sucking the mucus out of your baby’s nose before it has a chance to reach and irritate their throat and airway.

After using saline drops, take a bulb syringe and squeeze it to push the air out. While still pressing it, insert it one-quarter to one-half of an inch into your baby’s nostril, being sure to point toward the back/side of their nose.

Release the pressure to allow the syringe to suck the mucus out, and remove it for cleaning before repeating on the other side. Be sure to clean it again before storing it. Repeat as necessary throughout the day, but keep in mind you may irritate your baby’s nostrils if you do it too frequently.

4. Switch on a humidifier

Moistening the air your child breathes is another way to keep things flowing. Of course, you can purchase a humidifier to add moisture to your baby’s nursery. Yet, some doctors say these devices may not provide enough humidity to help and are difficult to clean, and therefore, keep safe.

One possible alternative is to treat your bathroom like a steam room. You can run hot water in the shower, close the bathroom door, and let the humidity build. Just 10–15 minutes should do the trick.

You might also consider patting your baby’s chest and back to help loosen particularly stubborn mucus. Apply firm pressure that’s a bit harder than when you burp them.

5. Offer honey (for babies over age 1)

For babies 12 months or older, you might try giving them a small amount of honey before bedtime or naps. The honey will coat your little one’s throat to relieve soreness. One studyTrusted Source revealed that honey may be as effective as the OTC cough suppressant dextromethorphan.

Serve your child one-half to one teaspoon of honey as needed. However, know that honey isn’t appropriate for younger babies due to the risk of botulism, which is a rare form of food poisoning.

6. Prop them up

You may notice that your baby coughs the most at nighttime. Some experts suggest propping older babies with extra pillows to help raise their head and improve breathing.


Do not use pillows or other positioners for babies under 12 months. Instead, consult your pediatrician to see whether propping the head of your baby’s crib is a possibility to help them sleep.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warns against the use of sleep aids — car seats, bouncers, other inclined products — that position younger babies at an incline greater than 10 degrees. This can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

If you’re worried about the cough and your baby’s breathing, consider sleeping in the same room with your child so you can help them as needed.

7. Address irritants

Try ridding your home of any irritants that might trigger asthma or allergies. Offenders might include things like tobacco smoke, dust, mold, and anything else that allergy testing reveals is a trigger for your baby.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source also says you should avoid being outdoors on days with poor air quality.

Things that can help keep your indoor air irritant-free:

  • not smoking around your baby or indoors (Plus, smoke can linger on fabrics like clothing, so quitting altogether is best.)
  • vacuuming carpets using a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter
  • using a room air purifier that has a HEPA filter
  • keeping the humidity level of your home between 40 and 50 percent
  • keeping pets out of sleeping areas
  • using allergen-proof mattress covers and pillow covers

What causes cough in babies

Coughing is the result of your baby’s airway being irritated or otherwise affected in some way. It may be caused by excess mucus buildup related to a viral illness or environmental irritants like pollen or smoke. You can look at your child’s other symptoms to help narrow down the cause.

Cold and flu

There are over 200 different cold viruses that your baby may come into contact with. They cause stuffy noses, sneezing, fever, and — yes — cough. Treatment involves keeping your baby comfortable and using OTC medications to address fever and pain.

Signs of flu in babies include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • body aches and headache
  • sore throat
  • stuffy nose
  • dry cough

Your child may also have an upset stomach with vomiting or diarrhea. Your little one’s doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication if you catch the illness early. Otherwise, rest, fluids, OTC fever reducers, and time should do the trick.

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