You wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of your little one coughing. Even if colds and coughs are common in kids — young children in the United States typically get around six to eight colds per year — it’s always a tough thing to hear. However, it’s helpful to know that your toddler’s cough at night often sounds worse than it is. A cough is actually protecting your child’s body by removing foreign material or mucus from their lungs. It’s important to note that different coughs have distinctive traits. Also, a cough is only a symptom and not a disease or illness itself. It can only be properly evaluated by other symptoms involved.
We know, we know; none of that is reassuring if your little one sounds like they’re hacking up their lungs when they should be dreaming peacefully. So, if you have a child coughing at night, we’re here to help. Here’s what might be causing that pesky night cough and what type of remedies you can use to help soothe it.
What causes your child to cough at night?
It’s always distressing to hear your toddler coughing all night, so you obviously want to know why it’s happening. Here are some common reasons behind nighttime coughing in children.
Viral illnesses, which include the common cold, trigger coughing when mucus drains down the back of the throat.
An infection of the lungs — like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, or tuberculosis — can cause a cough.
A cough caused by croup sounds like a barking cough and results from swelling of the larynx and trachea. Younger children are more prone to develop croup since they have smaller airways and, if they become swollen, it can make it hard to breathe. Kids who are younger than three years old are especially susceptible to croup.
This type of cough comes from nasal discharge draining down the back of the throat, which can cause a productive cough in your child. Coughs typically get worse at night because the congestion in a child’s nose and sinuses drains down the throat due to gravity (they’re lying down, so everything drains down more easily). This leads to irritation while your kid is sleeping, which is why they have to constantly clear their throat.
A persistent cough in your toddler without any other symptoms might be due to asthma, seasonal allergies, or a chronic sinus infection. If it lasts longer than a couple of weeks, it’s a good idea to consult your child’s doctor. It’s worth noting that coughs caused by colds due to viruses can last weeks, especially if a child has one cold right after another. But a nighttime cough that is on and off and gets worse at night and while active could certainly point toward asthma. And anytime asthma is suspected in a child, you should seek medical advice. Better safe than sorry!
What are some toddler cough at night remedies?
Many coughs are caused by a viral illness, which is why antibiotics aren’t a suitable solution since they don’t change the course of viral illnesses. Typically, a child’s cough doesn’t require any specific treatment — it will just do its thing and will go away in one to two weeks. But if you would like to help soothe your kid’s cough, older children can use over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicine. Just make sure to check the labels to ensure it’s safe for your little one, as some products may not be safe for children under the age of two.
Want to try home remedies to help your toddler’s nighttime coughing? Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Don’t forget fluids: Staying hydrated is especially important when your child is sick — water helps keeps airways moist and functional. Ensure your child is getting enough water by giving them one serving of water (eight ounces or 0.23 liters) for each year of their life. For example, a one-year-old needs a minimum of one serving of water per day, and a two-year-old needs two servings, etc. Remember, though, babies younger than six months old only need breastmilk or formula.
- Serve some honey: While honey isn’t safe for children under the age of one, it can help older toddlers by thinning congestion and loosening a cough. Honey acts as an antihistamine and cough suppressant, which are both effective for treating your little one’s cough. Parents can give a toddler, one year or older, a spoonful of honey per day, as needed, to relieve cough symptoms.
- Add moisture with a humidifier: Humidifiers help keep a room’s temperature from getting too dry, which helps your child’s airways by loosening mucus and easing the congestion. When purchasing a humidifier for your toddler, choose a cold air one. They’re safer for kids and more effective than warm air humidifiers. Keep one running throughout the night as your toddler sleeps.
When should I call my child’s doctor?
Most childhood coughs are nothing to worry about. However, in some instances you should consult a doctor, just to be safe. Call your child’s doctor if your child is having trouble breathing, has a high fever, makes a whooping sound when coughing, and/or is coughing up blood. You should also consult your medical team if your infant three months old or younger has been coughing for more than a few hours.
How long does a child’s cough last?
- Common cold: Ten days. This is common (no pun intended) and sometimes the cough can last even longer.
- Viral cough: A few weeks.
- Sinusitis: Ten to 14 days.
- Whooping cough: Three months.
- Asthma: Four weeks.