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Hearing their baby struggle with a persistent cough can make parents feel helpless.
When the cough doesn’t warrant a trip to the doctor, there are home remedies that can help.
Providence pediatrician Genesa Wagoner, M.D., wrote this article to help parents know what they can do at home to help comfort their little ones -- and how to know when to seek medical care.
It hurts to know your little one is in distress. Even though colds and coughs are common, especially among babies and toddlers, that doesn’t ease the concern of a parent listening to her or his baby coughing.
What can you do? When a baby’s cough is not severe enough to require a doctor's visit, it can be hard to know how to respond. That can make a mom or dad feel helpless.
Home remedies you can put into practice
Humidifiers: Only use a humidifier if your climate is very dry. Otherwise, it will not help, and it may set up mold in your home. If you are using a humidifier, then be sure you clean it according to the directions to avoid spreading infection. Hot water treatments or vaporizers should be avoided to prevent burns.
If your child is at least 1 year old, you can give him honey (but don’t give honey to a child younger than 1.) You can also mix the honey with warm water or herbal tea. Choose an herbal tea that has a sweet flavor already for the best success.
For a child 2 or older you can try the following cough remedy recipe: Boil 1 cored and cut-up pear with 4 almonds and 1 tsp of raw honey, with water covering all, for 10 minutes. Remove the almond skin, eat the pear and almonds (cut up if child under 3 years old) and drink the remaining fluid.
And, in general for colds and upper respiratory infections, make sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks a lot of fluids because fluids help thin mucus, which contributes to a cough. You can also give your child saline nasal spray or drops to thin the secretions and thin the mucus going into the throat.
Avoid other people who are coughing, sneezing, or smoking. And do your best to keep your child’s hands — and your own — clean.
When home remedies aren’t enough
While it’s tempting to seek help in the pharmacy aisle to address your child’s symptoms, such as a runny nose, many are not appropriate for children. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement in 2007 warning against giving cough and cold medications to infants, following infant hospitalizations and deaths. One of the reasons the agency discourages such remedies is that too little is known about dosing for very young children. It has also been found that cough and cold medications do not work in children younger than 6-12 years of age.
If you are planning to use any over-the-counter medications, always read the label and, when in doubt, check with a medical professional. (If you are covered by a Providence Health Plan, you can call the 24/7 nurse hotline number listed on the back of your card. The call is free.)
To relieve pain in children under 6 months old, only give acetaminophen. Ibuprofen can be given over the age of 6 months, but do not give if the child is not drinking enough fluids or is having an upset stomach. Ibuprofen should always be given with food. Do not give your child aspirin. It has been linked to a rare but serious syndrome.
If a baby’s or child’s symptoms worsen or don’t improve within 7-10 days or if you become concerned, seek help from a medical professional.
There are some reasons that a cough should be evaluated by a doctor: if the cough is worsening after the first few days, or if it lasts longer than four weeks, or if it is associated with difficulty breathing, coughing up blood or persistent fever, then the child needs to be seen and evaluated in person by a doctor to check his/her lungs and oxygen level.
Genesa Wagoner, MD, MPH, FAAP, is the Department Chair of Pediatrics at Providence Medical Associates in San Pedro, CA.
Find a doctor
Have questions about your child’s health? The Providence pediatrics team can help. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.