Dry, hacking, raspy or heavy with phlegm, a toddler’s morning cough might be nothing more than a temporary annoyance, but it could also be a sign of a more serious respiratory problem, such as asthma. Proper diagnosis plays an important role in managing a toddler’s morning cough, so always check with the doctor before giving your child medication for her cough, including over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants or cough suppressants.
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Children allergic to dust mites often experience allergy symptoms in the morning after spending the night resting their heads on pillows coated with dust mite debris. The allergens fill your child’s airways, activating histamine chemicals that trigger increased mucus production.
A morning cough resulting from other health conditions typically occurs because of your child’s prone sleeping position. Asthma and gastro esophageal reflux produce mucus or stomach contents that sometimes drain and collect in a child’s airways during sleep. Similarly, nasal mucus from sinusitis and postnasal drip could travel to your child’s throat, resulting in a morning-time cough.
In certain cases, you could narrow down the potential causes of your toddler’s morning cough by paying careful attention to the cough and other symptoms she experiences. Allergies, sinusitis and postnasal drip often produce a runny nose or sneezing with a cough. An asthma-linked morning cough commonly has a hacking, dry sound; it typically occurs by itself or in conjunction with wheezing. A cough associated with croup has a distinctive barking sound and could produce whistling during inhalation. Additional symptoms that could occur with gastro esophageal reflux include nausea and heartburn, or a burning sensation in the chest.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Some mild morning coughs in toddlers go away without treatment, depending on the cause. If the morning cough becomes severe or lasts longer than 10 days or if your toddler shows other potentially serious signs of illness, such as wheezing, arrange an appointment with the pediatrician for examination and diagnosis. Be prepared to discuss the exact symptoms your child experiences, as well as how long the cough has been occurring. The doctor typically listens to the lungs and may perform additional breathing or allergy tests to narrow down the cause. Treatments vary and could include short- or long-term medication, as well as environmental adjustments, such as using anti-allergen bedding or a humidifier.
Depending on the cause and severity of the morning cough, potentially life-threatening obstruction of your toddler’s breathing passages could develop. Watch him closely for signs of serious breathing problems, especially if the cough is severe or has developed suddenly. Possible serious symptoms include blueness of the face, extremely rapid breathing, severe wheezing and sucking or gasping for air. If you notice any of these breathing problems, take your toddler to an emergency room immediately for medical attention.
- “A Practical Guide to Pediatric Emergency Medicine”; Dr. Jamie Shandro, et al.; 2011
- “The Mighty Toddler”; Robin Barker, RN; 2007
- “Trusted Advice: You and Your Toddler”; Dr. Miriam Stoppard; 2011
- “The Everything Guide to Raising a Toddler”; Ellen Bowers; 2011
- MedlinePlus: Breathing Difficulty