Though distressing for both little ones and their parents, it's not unusual for toddlers to get sick with illnesses that cause both coughing and throwing up. Coughing can trigger vomiting by activating the child's gag reflex. Swallowing mucus from the nose, sinuses or lungs can also cause an upset stomach. In most cases, the vomiting stops when the cough quiets down. Since some causes of coughing and vomiting can be serious, always talk with your doctor if your toddler has these symptoms.
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As every parent knows, toddlers frequently come down with colds and other illnesses. Viral infections of the nose, sinuses and throat are particularly common. These illnesses often cause a cough and/or post-nasal drip -- mucus that runs down the throat into the stomach -- either of which can trigger vomiting. Nasal allergies are another common cause of cough with occasional vomiting. In toddlers with asthma, a hard coughing fit is often followed by vomiting. The vomiting associated with these infections and illnesses is usually sporadic, and the child typically continues to eat and drink normally after throwing up.
Less Common Causes
Some less common infections that affect toddlers can cause a severe cough and possible vomiting. Whooping cough, also called pertussis, notoriously causes bouts of hard coughing that are often followed by vomiting, especially in young children. Pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchiolitis -- a viral infection of the small airways that typically affects children 2 years or younger -- can also cause intense coughing that may trigger vomiting. These and other infections that affect a toddler's airway and lungs are potentially life-threatening. Emergency medical attention is needed anytime a toddler has difficulty breathing.
Treatment for coughing and throwing up in a toddler depends on the cause. For a simple cold, honey or vapor rub may relieve coughing and thereby alleviate vomiting. Over-the-counter cough syrups are not recommended for children younger than 6 years. Asthma and allergy medicines are used to control coughing related to these two conditions. For bacterial infections, antibiotics are usually prescribed. However, most infections toddlers come down with are caused by viruses -- and antibiotics are not helpful against viruses. Giving a youngster plenty of fluids helps calm the cough and prevents dehydration from throwing up. Hospital care may be needed if a toddler has difficulty breathing or becomes dehydrated.
When to Seek Medical Help
Most viral illnesses clear on their own -- but it's always a good idea to talk with your doctor if your toddler is coughing and throwing up. Call right away if your child has a severe cough, fever above 102 F, blood in the vomited material or any signs of dehydration, such a dry mouth, few tears when crying, excessive sleepiness, urinating less than usual or cold hands and feet. Seek emergency medical care if your toddler has trouble breathing or you notice bluish discoloration of your child's skin.
- American Family Physician: Treatment of the Common Cold in Children and Adults
- Pediatrics: Clinical Practice Guideline: The Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Bronchiolitis
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Cough and Cold Medicine -- Not for Children
- Pediatrics: Effect of Honey on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality -- A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study
- Pediatrics: Vapor Rub, Petrolatum, and No Treatment for Children With Nocturnal Cough and Cold Symptoms
- American Family Physician: Pertussis -- A Reemerging Infection