Cough can cause significant discomfort to a baby. The baby may also have difficulty relaxing and sleeping. Numerous illnesses can cause cough as a primary symptom. Coughing is the result of the baby’s airway being affected or irritated. It may be due to viruses, bacteria, mucus buildup in the airway, environmental irritants, allergies, or other diseases of the lungs and airway. Knowing the cause and seriousness of the cough is very important because it can help determine what home remedies to follow and if the child requires medical attention. Home remedies can help provide relief to the baby but may not always be curative. The baby’s cough may also be due to other underlying conditions that require medical treatment; hence, it is advised to consult a pediatrician. Home remedies may be followed alongside medical treatment as well to help provide more relief to the baby. Besides home remedies and medical treatment, a child with a cough, with or without other symptoms, requires plenty of rest, fluids, and good nutrition to be able to feel comfortable and recover faster.
What causes cough in a baby?
Some common conditions that can cause cough in a baby include:
- Cold and flu: There are hundreds of viruses that can cause cold and flu in a baby. The baby can have a cough, nose block, nasal discharge, sneezing, fever, chills, body pain, and throat pain. Rest, fluids, home remedies, over-the-counter (OTC) medication (as per the label instructions), and/or prescription medication from a doctor may be required to help the baby feel better.
- Croup: Cough in croup sounds such as a barking seal, which is very distinct. The baby may also have, fever, nasal discharge, throat pain, loss of voice, stridor (high-pitched whistling sound while breathing). Mild croup may be treated at home and regular follow-up with the doctor. Severe croup requires medical treatment.
- Pneumonia: A common cold or other illness can progress to pneumonia (infection of the lungs). Cough is usually painful and associated with mucus production (productive cough). The baby may also have fever, fatigue, vomiting, or diarrhea. Treatment may involve prescription antibiotics, home remedies, rest, and fluids.
- Pertussis (whooping cough): This is a contagious respiratory tract infection that can be dangerous for babies and is preventable by vaccination. If the baby has a cough that sounds like a “whoop” and the cough is dry and harsh, it can become severe and come in fits. The child may have a fever and nasal discharge. The child usually needs medical treatment and/or hospitalization to recover. Home remedies may be followed alongside medical treatment.
- Asthma: Viruses are the most common trigger of asthma episodes in babies younger than 6 months. The cough is persistent, and the baby may also have wheezing, fatigue, the bluish coloring of the mouth, and difficult and exaggerated breathing (nostrils flaring, skin sucking between ribs, etc.). The child requires emergency medical attention.
- Allergies: Babies may be allergic to certain foods or environmental substances or seasonal allergies. The baby may have a cough and sneezing that is not associated with fever, throat pain, body pain, etc., unlike many other respiratory diseases. If allergies are suspected, the baby may need to be evaluated by the doctor for further testing.
- Reflux: Cough associated with gastric reflux is usually chronic and occurs due to the backward flow of the stomach contents and acid. The baby also frequently tries to sit up to feel more comfortable, may have weight loss, or be irritable after feeding. Some babies may grow out of reflux with time and home remedies, whereas others may need medical treatment.
Home remedies for cough in babies
Following are the home remedies for cough in babies:
- Fluids: The baby should be well hydrated to keep their mucus flowing, making it easy to cough up. If the baby is dehydrated, the mucus may dry up and be difficult to clear with coughing, and the baby may have a dry cough that causes discomfort and is more painful. A baby younger than 6 months can be breastfed or given their regular amount of formula more frequently than usual to remain hydrated. Babies older than 6 months may be given water, unsweetened juices, and other fluids such as milk.
- Saline drops: Saline drops are available over the counter (OTC). They help moisten the inner lining of the nose and secretions. They help clear the airway and reduce coughing by reducing postnasal drip (the mucus travels down the back of the nose and throat, irritating the throat, resulting in cough). Two to three saline drops per nostril may be used three to four times a day. The baby may not like the sensation of the drops or the salty taste or sneeze, but that is normal, and they do not need to be discontinued for these reasons.
- Using a humidifier: A humidifier moistens the air, which moistens the air the baby takes in, hence moistening the mucus and aiding clearance of the airway. Many of the commercial humidifiers in the market may not provide enough humidity to help the baby’s cough, and they are also difficult to clean. Therefore, an alternative way is to turn the bathroom into a steam room. It can be done by running hot water in the shower or filling the bathtub with hot water, with the bathroom door shut, and allowing the humidity to build up. The parent or caregiver may sit in the humidified bathroom for around 15 minutes while patting the baby’s chest and back with mild pressure (more pressure than what is applied while burping) to help loosen stubborn mucus.
- Propping the baby up: A baby’s cough may worsen at nighttime and while lying down. Older babes may be propped with extra pillows to help raise the baby’s head and improve breathing. This can also help reduce acid reflux.
When to seek emergency medical attention?
If the baby has cough along with any of the following symptoms, it is recommended to visit the nearest emergency room (ER):
- Difficult or labored breathing
- shortness of breath
- Coughing blood
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty opening the mouth completely
- Significantly enlarged and red tonsils, especially if it’s only one tonsil
- Cough in newborns within the first few weeks after birth
- Cough that lasts 8 weeks or longer
- Cough that’s worsening
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Rapid breathing
- Irritability and behavioral changes
Latest Cold and Flu News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top What Can I Do for My Baby’s Cough? Related Articles
Children's Cough Causes and TreatmentsChildren's cough causes include infection, acid reflux, asthma, allergies or sinus infection, whooping cough, and exposure to irritants. Treatment for a child's cough include cough medicine for children over the age of four.
Chronic CoughChronic cough is a cough that does not go away and is generally a symptom of another disorder such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, sinus infection, cigarette smoking, GERD, postnasal drip, bronchitis, pneumonia, medications, and less frequently tumors or other lung disease.
Chronic cough treatment is based on the cause, but may be soothed natural and home remedies.
Cold and Cough Medicine for Infants and Children
The safety of giving infants and children over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicine is important for caregivers to understand. While there is no "gold standard" recommendation for giving infants and children OTC cold and cough medicine for fever, aches, cough, and runny nose, a few standards have been recommended.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that OTC cold and cough medicine only be used in children age four years and older.
The American College of Chest Physicians recommend that these medicines only be used in children age 15 years and older.
The FDA recommends that OTC cold and cough medicine be used in children 2 years of age and older.
However, there is agreement in regard to which OTC medications should not be used in children under the age of four (or the age of two, depending upon which guidelines are used), and they are 1) certain antihistamines like brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine maleate, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl); 2) cough expectorants (guaifenesin); 3) cough suppressants (dextromethorphan, DM); and 4) decongestants (pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine).
Aspirin should never be given to infants, children, and adolescents due to the possibility of a rare, but often severe and even fatal illness called Reye's syndrome.
FDA. "Most Young Children with a Cough or Cold Don't Need Medicines." July 18, 2017.
FDA. "Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Products to Kids." Updated: Nov 04, 2016.
Cough Remedies and CausesRemedies for coughing to relieve symptoms, thin mucus, and clear phlegm include cough syrup and honey in hot water. Use suppressants to treat a dry cough. See a doctor when home remedies are not enough. Bronchitis or another condition may be to blame.
Foods for the FluThe best foods to eat when you have the flu soothe symptoms and help you feel better faster. Good foods to eat with the flu include popsicles, turkey, vegetable juice, chicken soup, garlic, ginger, hot tea, bananas, toast, meal replacement drinks, oranges, pumpkin seeds, and carrots.
How Can I Stop My Child From Coughing?Treatment for cough is not recommended unless the cough interferes with the child’s sleep or activity or is accompanied by a fever. Different age groups of children require different therapies to stop them from coughing. Some good home remedies to treat cough in children include honey, warm milk, hydration, steam inhalation, resting, saline nose drops and other strategies.
How Long Does Whooping Cough Last?What is whooping cough and how long does whooping cough last? Learn more about whooping cough and how to recover from whooping cough.
Cough: 19 Tips on How to Stop a CoughCoughing is a reflex that helps a person clear their airways of irritants. There are many causes of an excessive or severe cough including irritants like cigarette and secondhand smoke, pollution, air fresheners, medications like beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, the common cold, GERD, lung cancer, and heart disease.Natural and home remedies to help cure and soothe a cough include stay hydrated, gargle saltwater, use cough drops or lozenges, use herbs and supplements like ginger, mint, licorice, and slippery elm, and don't smoke. Over-the-counter products (OTC)to cure and soothe a cough include cough suppressants and expectorants, and anti-reflux drugs. Prescription drugs that help cure a cough include narcotic medications, antibiotics, inhaled steroids, and anti-reflux drugs like proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, for example, omeprazole (Prilosec), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and pantoprazole (Protonix).
Is a Cough Contagious?There are many types of coughs: for example, dry cough, wet cough, a barking cough, whooping cough, stress induced cough, acute cough, and chronic cough. Cough is a symptom of an underlying condition or disease. Treatment of cough as a symptom is generally with OTC lozenges and liquids. The cause of the cough will be necessary to treat.
Is Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Contagious?Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is characterized by severe coughing fits and whooping sound produced during inhalation. The bacteria spreads via airborne droplets produced during sneezing or coughing. There is a whooping cough vaccine that is typically administered during childhood vaccinations.
Whooping Cough (Pertussis)Whooping cough (pertussis) is highly contagious respiratory infection that is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. There are an estimated 300,000 plus deaths annually from whooping cough (pertussis). Whooping cough commonly affects infants and young children but can be prevented with immunization with the vaccine. First stage whooping cough symptoms are a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever, a mild cough with the cough gradually becoming more severe. After one to two weeks, the second stage of whooping cough begins.
Whooping CoughWhooping cough (bordetella pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial infection. Read how vaccines and antibiotics could prevent whooping cough. Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of whooping cough.
Cold, Flu, and Cough: Things That Suppress Your Immune SystemA strong immune system is your best protection against infections and illnesses. Find out what can weaken that defense.
What Can I Take for a Cough While Pregnant?Seasonal flu, colds, and allergies are common ailments affecting most people all round the year. You must always be cautious of any medication that you take. This is especially true in pregnancy and during breastfeeding, given the effects these drugs may have on the unborn or breastfed child.
Why Am I Coughing Up Bloody Mucus?Coughing up blood or hemoptysis refers to the spitting of blood or blood-stained mucus from the throat and lungs (the respiratory tract). Coughed up blood often looks bubbly and is mixed with mucus. It may be red or rust-colored in appearance. It is often small in amounts, unlike vomiting blood where a large amount of blood is expelled or vomited from the mouth.