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5 Things to Do When a Toddler Coughs At Night

5 Things to Do When a Toddler Coughs At Night

According to pediatric physicians, coughing is good. A cough is the body’s defense mechanism through which the bronchioles of the lungs expel mucus that might be available. Coughing is very common for children more especially during the preschool age. Most children will continue coughing up to 2 or more weeks after a simple cold attack. However, if the cough lasts more than 4 weeks, that is not normal and it might be a sign of some underlying chest problems.

Coughing is caused by a number of factors. The most common cause of coughing in children includes flu, common cold or bronchitis. Besides the cough, your child might also have a running nose, general body aches, fever, earache and sore throat.

It is good for your child to cough because it helps to remove the phlegm from the lungs than letting them stay there. If the phlegm stays in the lungs it might lead to worse infections such as pneumonia.

Most of the children’s cough will stop by itself. When your child is coughing, you do not have to be worried. But ensure that he drinks a lot of liquids to be hydrated, gets enough rest and eats well.

However, if your child’s cough lasts more than 3 weeks, it might be due to some lung complications. Ensure you consult a doctor for proper diagnosis. But it is not advisable to get over-the-counter cough syrup for your child. This is because cough syrup is not safe for your child’s use.

Your child’s immune system has not yet fully developed, so when he is exposed to germs he is likely to get a cold.

When your child is exposed to germs and his body starts to fight them it helps to develop his immune system.

When the cough starts, make sure you make your child feel comfortable and get the much-needed rest to help him recover. Unless your child’s coughing is accompanied by other serious symptoms, there is no need to visit the doctor. The best solution is helping your child at home. Your aim when helping your child with a cough is to get your child to sleep well, feel relaxed and hydrated. The cough will stop by itself.

It is important to listen to the kind of sound that your child makes when he coughs. There are basically five kinds of coughs:

(i)    Mild cough with sniffing – this kind of cough is mostly caused by post-nasal drips. The cough starts from the back of your child’s throat.

(ii)    Deep cough – this cough comes from the chest. It is mostly caused by mucus available in the membrane of the air passage.

(iii)    Tight cough – this cough originates from the upper part of the throat. It might be caused by a swelling in the voice box or an infection.

(iv)    Wet cough – this is a kind of cough where your child produces phlegm. Also, it sounds chesty (coughing starts from the chest).

(v)    Dry cough – as the name suggests, it does not produce mucus. The child produces a harsh, irritated and whooping sound.

Knowing the kind of cough is important because you can be able to explain to your doctor for proper medication. You should visit the doctor if the coughing lasts more than 4 weeks. However, most of the night coughs in children are not life-threatening. But it is paramount for the doctor to check whether there are other underlying factors.

Most children, especially those under the age of 5 years will not spit out the mucus but will swallow it. But small babies and toddlers will vomit it.

Causes of coughing

There are different causes of coughing in children. According to pediatric physicians, most coughs in children occur during the winter months. This is because most of the respiratory infections occur during the cold season.

The following are the major causes of coughs in children:

(a)    Asthma – causes the airways to swell and become narrow and produce more mucus. An asthma-related cough usually occurs during the night or early in the morning. The cough has signs like wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing. However, if your child is having only a cough, it is most likely not asthma.

(b)    Exposure to smoke – another likely cause of coughing in children is smoke exposure. If your child is exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke, it can cause him to start coughing. Some children might also cough due to car smoke. It is crucial to ensure that your child is in a smoke-free zone.

(c)    Chest infection – if your child is having a wet and chesty cough, it might be due to an infection. Also, if the cough lasts more than 4 weeks, there might be underlying chest problems. With such kind of a cough, see a doctor for proper checkup.

(d)    Croup –  Repetitive cough which has a sharp noise similar to barking. It is mostly caused by the infection of the voice box and the windpipe. This kind of coughing is common in children under the age of 5 years. This is because their airways are small. Some of the symptoms of croup include: fever, high pitched breathing, difficulty in swallowing. The good news about croup is that it can be treated easily at home.

(e)    Sinuses – sinusitis is a condition whereby the nose cavity becomes swollen. This will lead to the building up of mucus, which in turn affects the drainage. It is usually caused by an infection. The symptoms of sinusitis are coughing, tenderness of the eyes, drainage and congestion. The coughing usually becomes worse at night.

(f)    Bronchitis – this is the inflammation of the bronchial lining of the lungs. It is mostly caused by infection or cold. It is characterized by coughing, chest discomfort, and production of greenish, yellowish or white mucus. The coughing might persist for a few weeks but it will clear by itself.

(g)    Chocking – in some cases, your child might have swallowed a foreign substance such as a piece of a toy or fishbone. This can cause your child to cough as he will try to cough out the particle he swallowed. If you cannot remove the foreign particle, seek help immediately.

(h)    Viral infection – some coughs are caused by a virus infection such as a cold. This might make your child have a wheezing cough. However, a viral infection does not mean that your child has asthma. The wheezing cough might be irritating but it is likely to clear by itself.

(i)    Bacterial infection – there is some bacterial infection that can cause coughing. Such a bacterial infection includes TB and pneumonia. These are very serious infections. For this reason, it is advisable that if the cough persists for more than 4 weeks, get medical attention for your child.

(j)    Hay fever – this is also known as allergic rhinitis. Hay fever is most common during the dry season when the grass and other trees produce pollen grains. The pollens if they enter your child’s nose might cause irritation to the nose lining and throat leading to sneezing, running nose and a tickling cough.

What to do

If your child’s cough is accompanied by any of the symptoms listed above, take your child for a checkup.

If your child is in good form and eats and drinks well, there is no need for worry. Your child’s immune system will fight off the causative agent of the cough.

However, coughing will spread the germs that are responsible for his cough in the room. This might be harmful to others in the room. Therefore, ensure that your child coughs in a piece of cloth or tissue. Also, ensure they wash their hands well before handling food.

So, what should you do? Hereunder are 5 things you can do to soothe your child’s cough at night:

1.    Skip the Cough Medicine

It is not recommendable to give your child over-the-counter medicines or cough syrups. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cough medicines do not help the cough for children under the age of 6 years. This is because most of them have serious side effects on the children.

According to research, most of the cough syrups contain antihistamines and decongestants. The decongestants are likely to cause cardiac arrhythmias while the antihistamines lead to an increase in difficulty in breathing and drowsiness. For this reason, the over-the-counter can be dangerous to your child.

Another crucial reason as to why you should not use the cough medicines is that they only suppress the cough but never treat it. By using the cough syrup, you are not going to the root cause of the cough but getting lead of the symptom. The underlying factor for your child’s cough might be asthma or he swallowed a particle.

When giving your child medication, it should be to heal the root cause not merely the symptom. However, if your child is exhibiting other symptoms besides coughing, ensure that you take him to the emergency room immediately or call doctor.

According to FIDA, cough syrup can be used for children older than 11 years. However, ensure that you read the label of the medicines to avoid any side effects.

2.    Use Saline Drops

Saline nasal drops are meant to help move the mucus out of the nose. However, if your child is too small to blow the nose, you can help remove the mucus with the help of a bulb syringe.

To administer the saline drops efficiently, let your baby lie on your laps such that his head is slightly tilted back. With the help of an eye dropper, drop one or two drops into each of your child’s nostrils. Then with the help of a bulb syringe, remove any air that might be trapped in the saline solution.

Then gently squeeze the bulb to draw the mucus. As you release the squeeze, mucus will start flowing in. After use, ensure that you clean the bulb well.

Saline drops are very safe for use in children. If you use them often and more especially before going to bed, it will help prevent nasal congestion and help your child to sleep well. However, if your baby is still breastfeeding, ensure that you use the drops before breastfeeding. This is because while your baby is feeding, he will breathe through the nose. Clearing his nose before feeding will help him feed easily and longer without struggling to breathe.

3.    Give Other Fluids

fluid during cough

It is crucial to give your child a lot of fluids. This is because if he is taking enough fluids, it will help to loosen the mucus in his nose and throat. This will help remove them easily and ease breathing. Apart from that, if your child has a fever, he is likely to lose a lot of body water and become dehydrated. For this reason, it is important to keep your child hydrated.

Water also helps your child’s body to fight the sickness. Besides that, it helps keep the airways moist for easy passage of air. The easiest way of ensuring that your child is getting enough water is the have him drink 0.23 liters of water for each of his years. For instance, if your child is one and a half years, he should drink one and a half servings of water per day.

Also, you can give him water after every one to two hours. You can also give your child other clear fluids such as diluted fruit juice or flat soda. If your child is still breastfeeding, offer him popsicles. It will help to increase the fluid level in the body and soothe a sore throat.

Are you worried that your child might drink excess water? Worry not. This is because your child is likely to refuse any more water if he has had enough.

4.    Use Honey

Honey is a natural sugar which can help to soothe your child’s sore throat. Most importantly, honey has antibacterial properties that help to fight infection. However, if your child is under 1 year, honey might not be the best for him. This is because it can cause botulism. To help your child take the honey more easily, mix it with warm water.

If your toddler is above one year, you can give him one spoon of honey. You can give him as often as possible because it does not have side effects. Besides the honey helps soothe the throat, it also helps to hydrate your child. This is because honey contains natural sugar.

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5.    Use Humidifier

Increasing the humidity level in the room helps to keep your child’s airways moist. It also prevents the mucus from drying out. This will help reduce the congestion of the nose and coughing.

When you go to purchase a humidifier, ensure that you select the cold air humidifier. This is because cold air humidifiers are more effective than warm air humidifiers. Also, a cold air humidifier is safe.

When you are setting up the humidifier, it is advisable to use distilled water. This is due to the fact that hard water will lead to building up minerals in the humidifier. If your toddler experiences cough at night, ensure that the humidifier runs throughout the night.

If you do not have a humidifier, you can steam up your bathroom. According to pediatricians, you can run a hot shower and then close the bathroom door to prevent any moisture from escaping. You can then sit with your child in the bathroom for 15 minutes. The steam will help loosen any congestion hence helping your child to cough.

When to Call a Doctor

Doing the above things to help your child is great. But if the coughing is persistent for more than 4 weeks, seek medical attention for your child. You should pay a doctor a visit if:

  • Your child is not able to speak a whole sentence because of coughing or difficulty in breathing
  • Breathing very fast
  • Have a high temperature
  • Producing a wheezing sound
  • Has a barking cough due to croup
  • Coughs blood
  • His cough lasts more than 4 weeks

Think Prevention!


Coughing is a common occurrence in toddlers and it can last for a few weeks. The cough might interrupt your child’s sleep. However, if your toddler experiences difficulty in breathing that is getting worse, or his face, lips or tongue have tint blue color, call doctor immediately. Otherwise, most coughs can be treated at home.