Cough Remedies for Infants and Toddlers

Toddler drinks tea
A small child being given a warm drink while outside. (Image: Radist/iStock/Getty Images)

Because of the potential for serious side effects, the FDA has prohibited the use of over-the-counter cough medicines for children under the age of 4. So when infants 1 year old or younger have a cough, relying on natural remedies such as nasal rinsing, warm fluids and mist therapy is the best path to relief. The good news is that certain traditional remedies have been proven at least as effective as OTCs, the effectiveness of which is increasingly coming into question. [REF1]

Warm Fluids

A large part of cough relief is preventing the post nasal drip that triggers the cough reflex. Warm fluids moisten and thin nasal secretions so that they’re more easily expelled, making the cough less forceful when it does occur. Warm apple juice or even water does the job. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends 1 to 3 teaspoons of warm fluids for infants 3 months to one year, administered 4 times a day. [REF 2]

Clearing Nasal Airways

One-year-olds usually can’t blow their own noses, but there’s a way to help. Nasal secretions can interfere with breathing and irritate the throat, trigger cough. A suction bulb is an effective way to draw nasal secretions from your 1-year-olds nasal passages. [REF 2]

Nasal Rinse

Spraying or trickling saline solution into your 1-year-old’s nose soothes irritated nasal tissue and clears mucus that can trigger cough. [REF 2] You can use a commercial saline spray or make your own by mixing ½ teaspoon of salt with 1 cup of warm water. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends giving children age 1 or older two to three drops per nostril every four hours. Children younger than 1 need only 1 drop per dose. [REF 3]

Humidifiers

When the weather is cold, central heating can dry out the air in your home. Placing a cool-mist humidifier in your 1-year-old’s bedroom puts moisture back in the air. That helps keep your baby's airways lubricated, helping prevent nasal secretions from drying out. It also makes mucus easier to expel and less likely to trigger cough. Humidifiers should be cleaned and dried daily to prevent contamination. Hot-water vaporizers should be avoided due to the danger of scalds or burns. [REF 4]

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