9 Natural Toddler Cough Remedies
It’s miserable to watch your toddler suffer when they’re sick. Help them feel better with these home remedies for coughing in kids.
By Jeannette Moninger and Nicole Harris
Medically reviewed by Mona Amin, D.O.
How to Soothe a Toddler’s Cough
First things first, it’s helpful to know what not to do. If your child is coughing, don’t reach for a cough suppressant. “Cough suppressants may actually be harmful. They make some kids hyperactive, dizzy, and restless at bedtime,” says Catherine Tom-Revzon, PharmD, a pediatrics clinical pharmacy manager at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains that cough suppressants may also be unsafe for those under 4 years old.
But just because you can’t offer your toddler a cough suppressant doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. When your toddler is coughing and miserable, try some of these safe, natural home remedies for cough for kids.
Studies have shown that honey is better than medicine for relieving coughs and helping a sick toddler sleep better. “Honey is safe for children age 1 and older, and kids are happy to take it because it tastes good,” says researcher Ian Paul, M.D., a member of the AAP’s clinical pharmacology and therapeutics committee.
Dark honey, such as buckwheat, may work best because it’s higher in antioxidants. But if you can’t find buckwheat honey, rest assured that any natural honey will do the trick thanks to its potent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can go a long way in soothing a sore throat.
Give half a teaspoon to children ages 1 to 5 years and one teaspoon to kids ages 6 to 11. If your child won’t take honey directly, you can also add it to warm water, herbal tea, or warm milk.
But skip this remedy for kids under 1: Experts say that you should never give honey to babies younger than 12 months as they are at increased risk of severe illness from certain bacteria that can be found in it.
Chicken Noodle Soup
It’s more than an old folk remedy: Research shows that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties. Its warm temperature can soothe sore throats and also acts as a vaporizer, helping to loosen mucus in the nasal passages, which can alleviate that stuffy nose. And since a cough and sore throat is oftentimes caused by a post-nasal drip (mucus running down the throat instead of out the nose), being able to open the nasal passages to help clear them out will help stop the coughing too.
The magic in the soup may come from the perfect balance of electrolytes, which help keep you hydrated, balanced by the protein and carbohydrates, making this a perfect meal for anyone who feels icky. It’s no wonder a bowl of chick soup can feel like a warm hug.
Hot or Cold Drinks
Warm or very cold liquids make excellent toddler cough remedies because they thin out mucus, which makes it easier to cough up. Plus, liquids soothe a raw throat and keep your little one hydrated.
While it may seem like common sense, scientists only recently took an interest in understanding how this phenomenon works. Researchers at the Common Cold Center at Cardiff University found that hot beverages in particular are the most effective at soothing cold and flu symptoms. In their study, they noted hot drinks relieved symptoms from runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chills, and fatigue. But a warm, room temperature beverage had fewer benefits and only temporarily relieved runny nose, coughing, and a sore thorat.
Cold drinks are also beneficial because they can numb a sore throat while helping to hydrate at the same time. Try not to drink ice cold juice that is highly acidic (think organe juice) since the acidity can increase discomfort in a raw throat sore from coughing.
Have your child sip ice water, cold or warm juice, or warm caffeine-free herbal tea.
Children age 4 and older can suck on sore throat or cough lozenges, sugar-free hard candies, or even frozen berries. A Popsicle or crushed ice are great choices for a younger kids with a cough-inducing scratchy throat.
Babies as young as 6 months and who have started on solid foods can safely gnaw on frozen foods in a baby mesh bag. Using a mesh bag for things like frozen berries, yogurt, or even an ice cube in a mesh bag can help alleviate a sore throat and cough without the risk of chocking.
Keep a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s room to help loosen chest and nasal congestion, which is a great remedy for nighttime coughing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a cool air humidifier used in tandem with other treatments such as rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and consuming honey can help relieve coughing and other cold and flu symptoms. While it won’t cure the cause, it will certainly help your little one feel a little better, especially at night when coughing may be worse.
Bacteria and mold grow quickly, so change the water daily and thoroughly clean the unit, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Another good option: Have your child sit in a steamy bathroom or take a warm shower.
Salt Water Gargle
One of the simplest toddler cough remedies involves salt and water. Simply mix one-half teaspoon of salt with 8 ounces of water, then have your child gargle the solution. It should ease the throat irritation that often comes with coughing. (Note: This should only be given to older toddlers, who can be trusted to spit out the solution without swallowing it.)
Salt draws water, which makes it an excellent remedy for coughing and sore throats since the tissue in the upper respiratory tract tends to become inflamed from excess mucus and fluids, causing coughing and soreness. In a randomized study, researchers found a significant decrease in upper respiratory tract infections after participants regularly gargled with salt water while ill.
Elevate an older child’s head with an extra pillow at night; this will open their airways so mucus can drain. (But call your doctor for any cough if your child is younger than 4 months.)
Mucus doesn’t take a break at bedtime and can build up in the back of the throat, especially if your child has a stuffed up nose. To help ease symptoms and reduce coughing, prop your child’s head up to help mucus keep moving. And since a dry throat can become easily irritated and cause even more mucus build up, make sure to use a humidifier close to your child’s bed.
Your toddler’s cough may be caused by postnasal drip. Loosen up clogged mucus with a few drops of saline solution, then suck it out with a suction bulb.
If your child is older than 2, you can ease congestion with a chest rub, like Vicks BabyRub. The product—which contains aloe, eucalyptus, lavender, and rosemary—might help your toddler get a better night’s sleep.
The active ingredient is eucalyptus, which is a natural expectorant that helps to loosen mucus, which can ease coughing, open nasal passages, and soothe a sore throat.
Image TOMSICKOVA TATYANA/SHUTTERSTOCK