experts explain how to stop your kid's lingering cough
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6 Hacks To Make Your Kid's Lingering Cough Go Away

So you can finally get a good night’s sleep.

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When your kid has a cough that just won't quit, it can be maddening. You just want to be able to do something, anything, to make them more comfortable, especially when they're hacking away at night. Fortunately, there are some helpful hacks for how to stop a kid's lingering cough so they feel — and sleep — better (and you do too).

Before you start treating the cough, it's important to understand what kind of cough you're dealing with because it might not be as straightforward as it seems. A lingering cough can be a sign of inflammation of the airways from a bad cold, but it can also be due to allergies or even acid reflux.

In fact, many parents think a cough is prolonged when it is actually within normal limits for a common cold. “Most viral upper respiratory tract infections can cause symptoms for seven to 10 days, [and] 10 days can feel like an eternity,” Dr. Yamileth Cazorla-Lancaster, DO, MPH, MS, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician, tells Romper. “If a cough is lasting more than 14 days, it could be caused by an overlapping viral infection (it happens more often than you would think), the development of a bacterial sinus infection, or even allergies among other things. However, technically a cough is not considered ‘chronic’ until it has lasted more than four weeks.”

How long is too long when your kid won't stop coughing? “I recommend my patients see me if they are ever having difficulty breathing, chest tightness, or wheezing with their cough,” says Cazorla-Lancaster. “Also if a cough is lasting greater than two weeks I would like to examine them, and definitely if they are having fever lasting greater than five days.”

Another thing to consider is something called cough-variant asthma, which is marked by a dry, chronic cough lasting more than six to eight weeks, and needs to be diagnosed by physician. “Cough variant asthma is not incredibly common but can be the cause of a chronic dry cough in a child that has not yet presented with wheezing or other classical symptoms of asthma,” Cazorla-Lancaster says. “The cough tends to be worse at night and may get worse with or after activity.”

When in doubt, it's always a good idea to get your pediatrician's advice. Once you know what's causing your little one's cough, it's way easier to manage. Here are six helpful cough hacks from medical experts.



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Surprisingly enough, you might a helpful treatment for your child's cough in the pantry, not the medicine cabinet. “If a child is over the age of 1, they can also try honey,” says Cazorla-Lancaster. A teaspoon or two of honey should do the trick.

Not only does honey feel soothing on the throat, but it is also a scientifically backed cough suppressant for children. As laid out in research from 2018 published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, honey has been shown to provide cough relief and reduce the impact of cough on children's sleep at night. Additionally, there was little or no difference shown between the effects of honey and dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in over-the-counter cough medicines, on all cough symptoms in children.

All this being said, it’s important to remember that for children younger than 12 months, honey should most definitely be avoided, as it can lead to serious harm and even death in infants, as they have poor immunity against bacteria that may be in the honey.



Particularly for dry coughs, running the humidifier in your little one’s room is also recommended. “Humidifiers can be helpful for kids, especially if they have asthma and/or allergies,” Dr. Rebekah Diamond, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist in New York City and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, previously told Romper. “Just make sure they stay clean and don’t become contaminated with dust or mold.”

But even for kids recovering from colds, a humidifier can be helpful. “In my office I suggest using supportive measures such as humidifier or vaporizer, nasal saline spray, steam baths, [and] Vicks,” Dr. Cazorla-Lancaster says.



As Cazorla-Lancaster recommends, steam is among the best remedies when it comes to treating a cough related to the common cold. Honaker agrees: "One can try warm steamy showers or a humidifier.”

The best part is that not only is steam a natural treatment for children of all ages, but it’s also incredibly easy to produce. “Making the bathroom steamy from a hot shower, then sitting in the room with your [child] can help,” Diamond said. “The steam can help break up secretions and make it easier to cough them up or swallow them.” For older children, you could even use a facial steamer or pot of hot water.


Bedtime tweaks

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Sometimes just the tilt of you little one’s head can help relieve their coughing. “Most of the time a cough that is lingering after a cold is caused by post-nasal drip,” Cazorla-Lancaster says. “They can also try elevating the head of the bed.”

If your pediatrician concludes that your child's cough is due to acid reflux, in particular, there are also some simple tweaks you can make to their bedtime routine to help. "Avoid pre-bedtime snacks, try over-the-counter acid meds with your doctor's approval, and elevate the child a bit with an extra pillow to keep acid from trickling up the esophagus and then spilling into the windpipe thus causing a cough," says Honaker.

Before you reach for that over-the-counter cough syrup, though, your health care provider should weigh in what is best for your child. “You should not use over-the-counter cough medicine without first speaking with your pediatrician,” Dr. Alison Mitzner, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician and author of Calm and Confident Parenting, previously told Romper.


A good clean

Sometimes a chronic cough can be due to allergies. If allergies are indeed the culprit, Honaker recommends trying over-the-counter allergy medications, but only if your doctor OKs it.

It's also a good idea to change your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) filters regularly — and to use one with good allergen removal, according to Honaker. Other steps to reduce allergens in your home include investing in a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) or small-particle filter, cleaning the curtains, and even maintaining the ideal temperature of your house can help.



If your child has a cough that persists a bit longer than the runny nose, it might just need the "tincture of time," according to Honaker. The cough could be "due to airway inflammation from a bad cold,” he explains. "There are great prescription meds (inhalers) for this but it will go away by itself with time, usually one to three weeks."

Plenty of rest and hydration will also help your kiddo get over their cough. “However, it's mostly time and patience that leads to resolution of the cough,” Cazorla-Lancaster says. Waiting for your little one to get better isn't fun, but all those extra snuggles — those are pretty great.


Dr. Yamileth Cazorla-Lancaster, DO, MPH, MS, FAAP, board-certified pediatrician

Dr. Rebekah Diamond, M.D., pediatric hospitalist in New York City and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University

Dr. Alison Mitzner, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and author of Calm and Confident Parenting

Study referenced:

Oduwole O, Udoh EE, Oyo-Ita A, Meremikwu MM. Honey for acute cough in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2018, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD007094. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007094.pub5

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