8 Natural and Home Cough Remedies for Kids Every Parent Should Know
To get your child cough-free (and the family back to a normal sleep routine), check out these home remedies for children’s coughs.
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Soothe with honey
If you’re looking for a natural cough suppressant for toddlers, you can’t go much more natural than honey, says Neeta Ogden, MD, an adult and pediatric allergist, asthma specialist, and immunologist. “Studies have actually examined honey and found that it was an effective cough suppressant, likely because of its soothing effect.” Giving your child a spoonful of honey before bed can soothe sore throats, ease coughs, and make for a very happy toddler. Keep in mind this should not be used for infant cough remedies, as children under age one can become sick with potentially life-threatening infant botulism from ingesting honey, says Dr. Ogden. Here are more amazing medicinal benefits of honey.
Up the fluids
Any fluids—but especially warm fluids like broth or warm apple cider—are great soothers when your toddler has a cough. Keeping your child hydrated helps to thin out mucus, making it easier to cough up, says Dr. Ogden. “If you have a cough you are likely sick and hydration can help with symptomatic relief and well-being when the body is fighting an infection.” Try making a special “lemonade” of warm water with the juice of a lemon and a few tablespoons of honey. The lemon works a double benefit by dulling the sweetness of the soothing honey and adding a boost of vitamin C. (Though remember, no honey for children under a year.) For children under six months, stick with breast milk or formula.
Keep things steamy
Running a humidifier in your child’s room at night helps to moisten nasal passages and shrink them, allowing for easier breathing when your toddler has a cough. Opt for the cool-mist type of humidifier, as warm mist humidifiers can have the opposite effect, making the nasal passages swell and making breathing more difficult. Be sure to clean the humidifier regularly and change the water daily to avoid mold growth. Don’t have a humidifier? A warm bath can have the same effect. Or sit with your child in the bathroom with the shower running hot. You’ll create your own personal steam room and loosen up some of that pesky mucus. Here’s how to choose the best humidifier for your space.
Opt for a soothing treat
Giving your older child a hard candy or non-medicated cough drop can help with short-term relief from a nagging cough, says Dr. Ogden. “But I wouldn’t recommend a cough drop until the age of four, at the earliest, because of the possibility of choking.” For a double whammy treat that soothes the throat while providing hydration, break out the Popsicles. These are the medical reasons for persistent coughing.
Get that snot out
Mucus can irritate or constrict the throat, causing more coughing. Using over-the-counter saline nasal drops can help “thin the mucus and also keep airways that might be dry because of clogged nasal passages moist, improving congestion,” says Dr. Ogden. “Saline nasal drops when blown out can also help clear bacteria and allergens.” If your child doesn’t yet know how to blow her nose, you can follow up with a nasal suction bulb. Older children may be able to use a neti pot. A neti pot looks like a small watering can, which you fill with saline water. You then pour the solution through one nostril and out the other, moisturizing the nasal passages and rinsing away mucus for a natural cough suppressant for toddlers. To prevent infections, always use sterile or filtered water in neti pots, never unsterilized or unfiltered tap water. Follow these safety precautions before using a neti pot.
Gargling with warm salt water is not something anyone looks forward to, but it’s stood the test of time for a reason: It’s effective. If your child is old enough to know not to swallow the briny stuff—usually at least four years old—this is a great choice for a natural cough suppressant. Add one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of salt to an eight-ounce glass of warm water. Stir well to dissolve, take a mouthful, and gargle for as long as your child can stand it— ideally, about a minute. Repeat as necessary (or as tolerated).
Open up the chest with a rub
When your toddler has a cough, you can buy over-the-counter chest rubs, like Vicks BabyRub. Be sure to avoid the face area, especially mouth, nose and eyes. If you like to keep things a bit more natural, you can create your own rub with a mixture of oils, beeswax pastilles, and age-appropriate essential oils. Keep in mind that some essential oils—like eucalyptus and peppermint—are not recommended for young children. “I like chest rubs because they provide soothing symptomatic relief for both congestion and cough-related congestion,” says Dr. Ogden. “They can help your child sleep at night.”
Up the angle
Lying flat makes a cough worse because it prevents the mucus from draining down. This is why you may notice a sudden uptick in coughing in your toddler at bedtime. Elevating the head can help. For babies, try placing a rolled-up towel or pillow underneath the head of the mattress, or even a board or a short stack of books under the legs of the crib to angle the head higher than the foot. Don’t put pillows in a baby crib, as pillows may pose a suffocation risk to infants. For toddlers, an extra pillow or two may do the trick. Try these other natural cough remedies for kids and adults.
- Neeta Ogden, MD, adult and pediatric allergist, asthma specialist, and immunologist, New York City.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, "Flu and Colds: In Depth."
- Mayo Clinic: "Warm-Mist Versus Cool-Mist Humidifier: Which is Better for a Cold?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Neti Pot: Can It Clear Your Nose?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cold Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't, What Can't Hurt."
- American Academy of Pediatrics: "Reduce the Risk of SIDS & Suffocation."