Relief for Coughing in Kids

Every winter, most children succumb to a viral infection. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children get eight to 10 colds in the first two years of life. Long after the fever is gone, many children continue to suffer from a cough. Parents often wonder what they can do to calm their child's persistent cough. Several readily available remedies are honey, cough suppressant, cough expectorant, the use of a humidifier or vaporizer and hot steam. Talk to your pediatrician before using an over-the-counter cough medication if your child has fever, shortness of breath, wheezing or a cough that has lasted more than two weeks.

A young child is coughing and breathing in steam. (Image: elikatseva/iStock/Getty Images)


A 2007 study in the "Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine" showed that honey was more effective in reducing the severity and frequency of nighttime coughing in 105 children compared to a traditional cough syrup suppressant or no treatment. Since the publication of this study, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of honey as an effective and all-natural alternative to traditional cough syrups. A half-teaspoon may be given to children 2 to 5 years old while 1 teaspoon may be given to children 6 to 11 years old. Children 12 years and older can be given 2 teaspoons.

Cough Suppressant Syrup

A cough suppressant syrup may be given when a child's cough is interfering with daily activities or sleep. However, if the cough is productive, meaning the child is bringing up mucus with the cough, it is not always advisable to suppress the cough, since coughing is the body's natural way to clear bacteria and viruses and get rid of mucus. Common cough suppressants include syrups with the ingredient dextromethorphan, or DM, available over-the-counter, or prescription syrups containing codeine or hydrocone.

Cough Expectorants

Cough expectorants contain the ingredient guaifenesin and help to thin and loosen mucus, making the cough more productive. A cough expectorant is helpful for a child who is producing mucus with his cough. Cough expectorant is available as a long-lasting tablet or capsule or as a liquid syrup.

Humidifier or Steam Vaporizer

A cool-mist humidifier in the child's bedroom at night may help her sleep by soothing an irritated and dry throat and by loosening mucus. A humidifier is especially effective when the air is dry, such as during the winter. This is because dry air will irritate a cough. A steam vaporizer will have a similar beneficial effect.

Hot Steam

For a child with a barking or croupy-sounding cough, hot steam can help your child to breathe more easily. Take him into the bathroom and turn on hot water in the shower with the bathroom door closed. You can sit with him in the bathroom for approximately 20 minutes and read a book to pass the time. However, if your child is having difficulty breathing, turning blue, or exhibiting stridor--a high-pitched noise when inhaling--you should seek medical attention immediately.

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