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Cold and Flu Center

Chronic Cough at Night in a 3-year-old

author image Melissa McNamara
Melissa McNamara is a certified personal trainer who holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and communication studies from the University of Iowa. She writes for various health and fitness publications while working toward a Bachelor of Science in nursing.
Chronic Cough at Night in a 3-year-old
A young girl has her lungs checked by a doctor with a stethoscope as her mother holds her in the doctor's office. Photo Credit: gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Conditions that cause coughing are almost always worse at night. If your 3-year-old has been coughing at night for several weeks, this could indicate bronchitis, sinusitis or asthma. Consult with your doctor to treat your child’s condition and prevent damage to your child’s lungs.

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Chronic bronchitis will produce thick green or yellow mucus, but your 3-year-old may be swallowing the mucus so you’re unaware of the color. The cough often is accompanied by a rattle sound while your toddler breathes. Chest pain also may be present. Chronic sinusitis causes the thick green or yellow discharge to drain down the back of your toddler’s throat. Your child may have nasal congestion and a sore throat, and there may be pain in the front part of your child’s face. Asthma also can cause a chronic nocturnal cough accompanied by shortness of breath and difficulties breathing.


Acute bronchitis can be caused by a virus or bacterial infection that affects the air passages of the upper lungs. If your toddler is exposed to irritants, such as cigarette smoke, the condition can turn to chronic bronchitis. There are several conditions that can cause chronic sinusitis, such as a deviated septum that blocks the sinuses, an upper respiratory infection and inflammation that occurs with allergies. It’s difficult to tell why some kids have asthma while others don’t, but toddlers with a family history of asthma or allergies are at an increased risk for developing the disease. If you smoked during your pregnancy, your toddler is at an increased risk for asthma. Common environmental triggers that can cause your toddler’s airways to overreact during an asthma attack are dust, mold, animal dander and cockroach debris.


If bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your toddler will be prescribed antibiotics for the infection. Your toddler may need to inhale medications through a nebulizer for about 10 minutes before going to bed. If chronic sinusitis is causing the problem, your doctor may need to treat an underlying condition to improve the sinus infection. An allergy treatment plan or fixing a deviated septum with surgery can help clear the symptoms. Sometimes functional endoscopic sinus surgery is necessary for chronic sinusitis. Asthma also is treated by inhaling medications through a nebulizer. If your toddler is having difficulty breathing, call 911 or go the emergency room.


To prevent coughing from these conditions, raise the head of your toddler’s bed up a few inches to reduce post-nasal drainage into the throat. Turn your bathroom into a steam room by turning the water on to its hottest temp and closing the bathroom doors. Sit with your toddler in the steam several times per day for 20 minutes each time. Firmly pound on your toddler’s back while sitting in the steamed bathroom. Avoid respiratory infections by having your toddler and family members wash their hands frequently, especially after using the restroom. Have people who appear sick keep their distance from your child. To prevent coughing from asthma, cover your child’s bedding in allergen-proof cases. Do not allow smoking in your home and keep pets out of your toddler’s bedroom. Have an emergency plan prepared in case your toddler has an asthma attack.

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