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31 Home Remedies For Cough In Kids And When To See A Doctor

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Cough and cold are common in children. These are the immune system’s response to fighting germs and infections.

A cough could be triggered due to bacterial or viral infections and lasts for up to two weeks. Unless it is accompanied by other severe symptoms, rest, hydration, and some home remedies can provide relief from cough and make your child feel better. Anecdotal evidence suggests that home remedies might help the child sleep better at night, without any bouts of cough to disturb them.

In this post, MomJunction tells you about a few home remedies to relieve cough in children.

Home Care Tips And Remedies For Cough In Children

Before trying any home remedy, it is important to understand your child’s cough (sound, sputum, etc.), as this will help you to pick the best home remedy and properly explain the situation to your child’s doctor. Here are a few common types of cough that occur in children.

  • Dry cough: No phlegm or mucus, usually associated with a tickly throat. Often caused by viral infections or allergies.
  • Whooping cough: Ends in fits of coughing, forcing the child (or adult) to breathe forcefully, resulting in a “whooping” sound. Is caused by a bacterial infection.
  • Wet cough: Usually brings up phlegm while coughing. This could be due to viral or bacterial infection.
  • Barky or croup cough: You may notice a change in the child’s voice, along with a harsh “bark-like” cough. This can be due to viral infections.
  • Wheezing cough: The child might have a high-pitched whistling sound when breathing. This might be because of cold, asthma, allergies, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

1. Massage

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A massage might help in stimulating the body to heal all by itself. Tui Na, or tunia massage that was followed in China, is said to be effective for infantile cough (1). Contact your massage therapist to enquire if it would suit your child.

2. Lots of rest

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The stress of schoolwork, traveling to school, and any allergens outside can aggravate a cough. If your child has a persistent cough, get them to stay home and rest for the day

The body heals faster when it is at rest. As a cough spreads germ around, keep the child at home to avoid spreading the infection to other kids.

  • You can engage your child in quiet activities like coloring or drawing, or let them play their favorite video games
  • You could read a book or do puzzles together.
  • A nap is also a great idea if your child is up to it.

3. Steam

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Anecdotal evidence suggests that warm air from the steam helps loosen the mucus in the chest and moisturize your child’s upper airways. The method is also likely to help in relieving cough. Try this home remedy if your child is comfortable inhaling hot air.

  • Heat water to a boil, in a bowl. You could also fill the tub with hot water.
  • Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil (take care if your child has allergies) in the water and let your child inhale the steam through the nose. In case you are using boiling water in a bowl, keep your child a little away from it.
  • You can also run the hot water in the shower and leave it for a couple of minutes with the door closed. This will fill the room with steam, which could provide relief from cold.
  • Always be around when the child is inhaling the steam. Any negligence on the part of the child might lead to burns.

4. Humidifier

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If you have concerns over the safety of steam inhalation, then humidifiers could be a safer alternative. Humidifiers add moisture to air, and may help in soothing a sore throat and relieving cough (2).

  • A cool-mist humidifier will keep your child’s airways moist and clear.
  • Open the windows in the morning to let out the humidity to prevent the growth of mold in the room.

5. Gargling

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Gargling with salt water is believed to soothe sore throats and relieve cough; it is also said to be cost-effective (3). However, try this remedy for older children who can gargle without swallowing the saltwater.

  • Adding a teaspoon of salt in warm water can provide relief from a sore and scratchy throat.
  • Gargling thrice a day can provide relief from a cough as well.

6. Plenty of liquids to stay hydrated

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Drinking lots of liquids might help in preventing the mucous membrane of the throat from drying up.

  • Give your little one enough warm water to drink, as research suggests that hot liquids might be superior to cold liquids in the case of upper respiratory tract infections (4).
  • Also, drinking water helps in thinning the mucus and getting it out of the body.

7. Suction bulb

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Excessive mucus can lead to blockages of the airways, especially the nose. Mucus in the nasal region could trigger a wet cough. You may consider clearing the blockage using a suction bulb. However, it is advised to learn the technique from a trained nurse before trying it for the first time.

  • Take a suction bulb and squeeze it. Hold it like that and put the opening inside one of the nostrils of the kid, and gently release it.
  • This should clear away the mucus blocking the nose and pull out what’s clogging the airways.

8. Saline nasal drops

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Saline irrigation of the nose is said to reduce upper respiratory tract infections (5). The saline nasal drops can be purchased over the counter (OTC) and are considered safe to use for children. Using these drops before your child goes to bed could help them sleep better. You can either follow the directions on the package or ask your child’s doctor.

Warm saline drops or saline water made at home is considered as a cost-effective home remedy to ease a dry cough in children.

  • Add two teaspoons of salt to four cups of water (6).
  • Put two drops of the warm saline water in the nostrils of the child. Ask him to blow immediately to remove mucus quickly.
  • Your child can also gargle warm saltwater to ease the irritation of the throat.
  • Another way to ease nasal congestion is to rinse the nostrils using saline water. This method is suitable for older kids and adults. Tilt the child’s head to a side and use a Neti pot to pour warm saline water in one nostril and let it come out from another. Make sure that the kid breathes with his mouth during this process.
  • You can also use saline drops or saline nasal spray. It has exact amount of saline required for cleaning the nose.

9. Pediatric vapor rub

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Topical cough suppressants may relieve cough in children. Here is how you may use it.

  • Take a little pediatric vapor rub and massage your child’s chest with it. Spread the balm over the upper respiratory region that is clogged with mucus.
  • You may also apply the vapor rub on the back, neck, and nose.
  • Do not put the balm inside the nostrils and around the eyes.

The child may have a slight burning sensation sometimes, but they will eventually feel better.

10. Suck on popsicle

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According to the US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sucking on ice chips or popsicles might help provide relief from a sore throat (7). If your child is suffering from dry cough and sore throat, you may consider trying out this home remedy.

To relieve your children from the discomfort, get them (if they are four years or older) to suck on sugar-free candy, popsicle, or crushed ice. Make sure you let them have one popsicle only.

11. Head in upright position

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The position of the head when coughing can influence the secretion or mucus-clearing from the body (8). Ideally, children who have coughing fits should consider keeping the head in an upright position when they sleep, as this might help to limit the movement of the mucus towards the throat.

This could prevent the accumulation of mucus in the throat and reduce coughing. Prop up the pillows or add a pillow or two under the head so that the head is in a higher position than the rest of the body. This will help in preventing coughing fits at night.

12. Nose blowing

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A wet cough might often result due to mucus accumulation in the throat. If not cleared, mucus in the nostrils can move from the nose to the throat when the child breathes forcefully, resulting in throat irritation, and therefore coughing.

To prevent that, help your child blow his or her nose from time to time. If the child is very young, teach them to blow the nose by “smelling backward”, but forcefully.

13. Stay clean

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Germs spread easily through coughing. Help your child stay clean, as it might prevent the spreading of the germs to others in the family.

  • Keep the child’s surroundings clean.
  • Change bed clothes every day.
  • Encourage them to wash hands before touching anything after they cough.
  • Teach them to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze and wash their hands or use a sanitizer immediately after.

14. Honey

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Honey is considered the best home remedy for children’s cough. It contains antimicrobial agents, which can help relieve cough. A research paper published in The Journal of Family Practice recommends giving 1.5 teaspoons of honey before bedtime as a cough remedy (9). The sweet taste of honey also helps in producing saliva. The excess amount of saliva helps in thinning the mucus.

Do not give honey to a baby who is less than one year of age.

15. Lemon

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The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) advises that children below the age of six years could be given honey and lemon as a cough remedy instead of the over-the-counter cough syrups (10).

  • A dash of lemon juice with honey (mentioned above) makes a simple cough syrup.
  • You can also have the child suck on a slice of lemon if they like the taste.

16. Ginger

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Ginger is widely used in Ayurveda to relieve cough and cold, so you might consider using this remedy if your child is comfortable with the strong taste of ginger.

  • Add a piece of crushed ginger to water and let that boil until the water becomes half the original quantity. You can mix lemon and honey to it and give it to your child.
  • You can also give a piece of ginger to your child and ask them to chew it.
  • For a dry cough, sprinkle some salt on the ginger piece and ask your child to chew it (11).

17. Chicken soup

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Researchers have found that chicken soup contains anti-inflammatory properties. This might soothe cold symptoms by relieving congestion, cough, and a sore throat (12).

18. Milk and turmeric

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Turmeric is believed to have therapeutic effects on the dry cough.

  • Add turmeric powder to a glass of warm milk.
  • Give it to your little one every night before going to sleep.
  • Turmeric has an antiseptic property which helps in treating viral infection (11).

19. Cough drops

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Lemon and peppermint drops might help in providing temporary relief to a scratchy throat. Children below three years of age should not be given cough drops (13).

20. Warm liquids or soups

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Warm liquids might help loosen the mucus blocking the breathing passages in the body. So, in addition to steam, you can also consider giving your child:

  • Warm soups with greens
  • Decaffeinated teas
  • Warm water

21. Apple cider vinegar

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Apple cider vinegar is believed to provide relief from cough. If your child has irritated throat and phlegm, then you could try the below remedy

  • Add one-fourth teaspoon of cayenne pepper, ground ginger, one tablespoon of honey, apple cider vinegar and two tablespoons of water. Try this remedy only if your child is old enough to handle the bitter taste (14).
  • Another way to use this vinegar is to dab your child’s pillowcase with it. This is an age-old folk recipe that enables your child to breathe in the scent of the vinegar, which might soothe the throat.

22. Chest rub

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Using a homemade chest rub instead of a medicated one can also be useful in fighting a cough. Here is how you can make one at home.

  • Take two level tablespoons of beeswax in a boiler and mix it with half-a-cup of olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil.
  • Let the beeswax melt and add four to five drops each of eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, rosemary oil, and clove or cinnamon oil to this and stir.
  • Once the oils and the wax are mixed properly, take the mix off heat and let it cool.
  • Pour into a container and store it in a cool place.
  • Apply this rub over your child’s throat, chest, and back to provide relief from a cough.

23. Herbal cough medicine

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Here are a few ways to make herbal cough medicine for children. This is ideal only for children aged four and above. Make sure your child is not allergic to any of the substances before using them.

Chamomile and marshmallow syrup

  • Take half a quart of water in a vessel.
  • Add a quarter cup each of marshmallow root, chamomile flowers, and dried or freshly grated ginger.
  • Then add one tablespoon of cinnamon. Boil the concoction until the liquid becomes half the original portion.
  • Strain the remaining liquid and simmer it until it further reduces to one cup of syrup.
  • Add two cups of honey and two tablespoons of vegetable glycerin.
  • Put it in a container and store it in the refrigerator. Do not store it for more than two months.
  • One teaspoon of this syrup twice a day might provide relief from a cough.

Fenugreek and lemon syrup

  • Soak a teaspoon of fenugreek leaves and one spoon of thyme leaves in one and a half cups of water. Add one tablespoon of feverfew and half a lemon (unseeded) and leave it for half an hour.
  • Strain the liquid and simmer the resultant liquid until it reduces to one cup.
  • Add two cups of honey and two tablespoons of vegetable glycerin to the concoction.
  • Cool it down and store in a jar, in a cool, dry place. You can also refrigerate it to use it for a month or so.
  • Give your child one teaspoon of this syrup for a cough.

Horehound leaves and honey syrup

White horehound or Marrubium vulgare leaves have expectorant properties and is widely used as an herbal remedy for cough (15).

  • Add a pinch of dried horehound leaves to a pint of boiling water.
  • Let the leaves steep in the water for ten minutes.
  • Strain the liquid and add honey twice as much as the liquid to complete the syrup.
  • Store it in a container and refrigerate it.
  • You can use it for at least two months.

24. Decaffeinated herbal tea

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You can also consider giving herb teas for a cough. You can make these teas at home or buy them. To ensure that these teas are decaffeinated, it is best to make them at home. Here is how.

  • Make herb tea mix with one tablespoon of horehound leaves, thyme, and mullein. To make the tea, boil one or two teaspoons of the tea leaves in one cup of water. Make sure that they boil enough to bring out the aroma of the ingredients out. Give half a cup of this tea thrice a day to ease a cough.
  • Another herb tea you can have is the lemon balm tea (16), which is easy to make. Take one teaspoon of lemon balm leaves and boil them in a cup of water. Boil for at least eight to ten minutes for the best results. Give your kid half a cup of this tea twice a day.
  • Licorice root is believed to have properties to ease a sore throat and cough (17). Add half a teaspoon of licorice root to boiling water and leave it for ten minutes. Strain the liquid and give it to your kid.
  • Hyssop is said to have expectorant properties (11). Put two teaspoons of hyssop leaves in a cup of boiling water and leave it for around ten minutes. Strain, cool, and give it to your child, to ease congestion in the upper respiratory region.

25. Herbal decoction

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A strong herbal decoction, given in small doses, might help in relieving cough. Here is how you can prepare it.

  • Combine one spoon of cumin seeds (Cuminum cyminum seeds), sweet flag or calamus (Acorus calamus roots), and cilantro (Coriandrum sativum leaves) to make the tea mix.
  • To prepare the decoction, add one-fourth of the herbal leaves mix to one cup of boiling water.
  • Simmer the liquid for around 20 minutes and remove from heat.
  • Strain it. Let it become warm or cold before giving it to the kid.
  • Give one teaspoon of this decoction after the meal to help ease a cough.

You can also make larger quantities of the decoction by varying the quantities of the ingredients.

26. Herbal powder

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You can also consider making an herbal powder with:

  • Java grass (Cyperus rotundus roots)
  • Chinese pistache leaves (Pistacia chinensis leaves)
  • Long pepper fruit (Piper longum fruit)
  • Indian aconite bud (Aconitum ferox bud)
  • Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum root)

Take equal quantities of these ingredients and churn them into a powder. Give one teaspoon of this powder, mixed with honey, to ease a cough. It is good to consult a professional before trying such herbal powders for children to understand their effectiveness and safety in children.

27. Aniseed

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Aniseed is a herb that is believed to relieve cough (18).

  • Add one tablespoon of crushed anise seed to half-a-cup of boiling water and let it steep for half an hour.
  • Strain the liquid and simmer it for 15 minutes or until it reduces to one cup.
  • Add two cups of honey and let it cool.
  • Store it in a jar and refrigerate it.
  • Half a teaspoon of this mix can help ease a cough in children.

28. Aloe barbadensis

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Aloe vera or (Aloe barbadensis) leaves can help ease a cough (19).

  • Roast leaves of aloe vera and take the juice out of them.
  • Add honey and clove powder to it.
  • Give a teaspoon of this, twice a day, to the child.

29. Allium cepa

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Onions facilitate the melting of phlegm in people suffering from severe cough. It is also believed to treat persistent cough and cold (19).

  • Mix one teaspoon of the allium cepa juice with one and a half teaspoon of honey and leave it for two to three hours.
  • Give this mix twice a day for cold and cough.

30. Abrus precatorius

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The leaves of abrus precatorius or crab’s eye, as it is commonly known, is believed to help relieve cough and cold (20).

  • Scrub 10 grams of the crab’s eye root in 10ml of water.
  • Give this to your child at least three times a day.

31. Carom seeds

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Carom seeds (ajowan caraway) or bishop’s seeds are popularly used in India to fight indigestion and cold and cough. The seeds have antimicrobial properties that can help in relieving congestion (21). Here is how you can make a decoction of the seeds to relieve cough.

  • Boil one teaspoon of carom seeds, eight to ten holy basil leaves, half a teaspoon dry ginger powder, one clove, a pinch of ground pepper powder, half teaspoon of turmeric powder, and one-third cup jaggery in half a cup of water.
  • Boil for ten minutes and strain the liquid.
  • Give a teaspoon of it to your child to provide relief from a cough.

Other Natural Ways To Cure Cough In Children

Want to know how to cure cough in your child? Here are a few other remedies you can try after speaking with your doctor:

  • To stop cough, cut a lemon in quarter, add a sprinkle of salt and ground pepper and let your young boy suck it. The tangy taste of lemon helps in toning down the cough.
  • Mix 2 tsp of honey with a pinch of white pepper and let your child take it three times a day.
  • White pepper and honey, together, can also be used to help with your kid’s cough. Just add a small pinch of the fine white pepper powder to a teaspoon of honey and give this remedy three times a day.

The above natural remedies are effective for both kids and adults. Before you give any of these to your children, make sure that they are not allergic to any of the ingredients.

When to seek medical care?

See a doctor when:

  • A cough persists longer than ten days
  • The child has any signs of distress with breathing or has chest pain
  • They have rapid breathing, known as chest retractions
  • When the muscles sink between the ribs
  • Stridor, a whistling sound when breathing in

Diet For Younger And Older Kids

Including the following food items in your child’s diet can also prove beneficial to treat cough:

  • Food rich in vitamins A and B is beneficial to eliminate cough.
  • Healthy immune is important to eliminate cough, and therefore green leafy vegetables are a must.
  • Hot milk and honey can act as a defense mechanism against virus and bacteria.
  • Avoid giving spicy and oily food to your kid.
  • Avoid foods like milk, banana, salted and sugary snacks as they might increase mucus formation.
  • Warm pineapple juice with two tablespoons of honey makes a natural cough syrup.
  • Garlic, ginger, and oregano keep the body and immune system strong.

One of the safest ways to treat a cough in children is through home remedies. However, it is important that you vet the ingredients thoroughly to make sure that the remedies are safe for your kid. In any case, it is imperative that you talk to a doctor in case your child has a chronic cough.

Most importantly, know when you should take your child to a doctor and when you can handle a cough with home remedies.

Have ideas for treating kids’ cough at home? Tell us about them here.

References:

1. Yan-chao Wang, and Ting Li; Efficacy observation on tuina for children with cough; Journal of Acupuncture and Tunia Science
2. Vaporizer or Humidifier: Which Is Best?; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
3. Moyad MA; Conventional and alternative medical advice for cold and flu prevention: what should be recommended and what should be avoided?; NCBI(2009)
4. Saketkhoo K, Januszkiewicz A, Sackner MA; Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance; NCBI(1987)
5. Gaetano Chirico, and Giuseppina Quartarone; Nasal congestion in infants and children: a Literature review on efficacy and safety of non-pharmacological treatments; Research Gate
6. Preparing Saline Solution; C.S Mott Children’s Hospital Colorectal Program
7. Sore Throat; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
8. Badr C, Elkins MR, Ellis ER; The effect of body position on maximal expiratory pressure and flow; NCBI(2002)
9. Evan Ashkin,and Anne Mounsey; A spoonful of honey helps a coughing child sleep; The Journal of Family Practise
10. Naveed Ahmed, Alastair Sutcliffe, and Claire Tipper; Feasibility Study: Honey for Treatment of Cough in Children; Pediatrics Report(2013)
11. Shahnaz Sultana, et al.; Cough Suppressant Herbal Drugs: A Review; International Journal of Pharmaceutical Science Invention
12. Rennard BO1, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, Robbins RA, Rennard SI; Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro; NCBI(2000)
13. Help for a Child with a Cold; Stanford Children’s Health
14. Bonnie K. McMillen; Home Remedy for Cough; University of Pittsburgh
15. Santram Lodhi ; et al.; Marrubium vulgare L.: A review on phytochemical and pharmacological aspects; Research Gate
16. Lemon Balm: An Herb Society of America Guide; Herb Society
17. Liqiang Wang, Rui Yang, Bochuan Yuan, Ying Liu, and Chunsheng Liu; The antiviral and antimicrobial activities of licorice, a widely-used Chinese herb; Elsevier Journal
18. Doaa Ibrahim; Medicinal Benefits Of Anise Seeds (Pimpinella Anisum) And Thymus Vulgaris In A Sample Of Healthy Volunteers; Research Gate
19. K.P. Sampath Kumar, et al.; Aloe vera : A Potential Herb and its Medicinal Importance; Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research
20. Narendra Garaniya, and Atul Bapodra; Ethno botanical and Phytopharmacological potential of Abrus precatoriusL.: A review; Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicines
21. Medicinal Value Of Carom Seeds – An Overview; Pharmatutor

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