It's worrisome when a little one has a cough. And staying up all night with a coughing child is one of the common experiences of parenthood. Understandably, many parents search for a home remedy to relieve their child's cough. Honey is one safe, effective option for home treatment of your toddler's cough due to a cold. Another option is vapor rub applied on your child's chest since it may lessen his cough and increase sleep. Keeping your child well hydrated is also important.
Honey is an effective remedy for children's cough due to the common cold. A study published in August 2012 in "Pediatrics" found that young children with colds who were given a tablespoon of honey about 30 minutes before bedtime had less severe and less frequent nighttime coughing. The researchers also noted improved sleep quality for the parents and children. Children younger than 1 year should not eat honey due to a risk of botulism -- a serious bacterial infection. But for children older than age 1, honey is a safe, affordable treatment to relieve a cough related to a simple cold.
The only other home remedy recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization for young children with cough due to a cold is drinking extra fluids. Additional fluid may help by thinning mucus that irritates the throat and triggers cough, though no scientific studies have shown this to be true. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends cool-mist humidifiers, but the World Health Organization does not recommend this therapy due to lack of proven benefit. Breathing moist air may soothe dry, inflamed membranes, thus lessening the irritation that causes coughing.
Ointment with aromatic oils, such as camphor, menthol and eucalyptus, rubbed onto the chest and neck may provide temporary relief of cough in children. A study published in December 2010 in "Pediatrics" involving children aged 2 to 11 with colds found that parents who applied vapor rub to children's chests and necks before bedtime reported less frequent and severe coughing and improved sleep. This is not enough evidence to clearly show vapor rub works, but it may be helpful. Vapor rubs should not be rubbed anywhere on the face, especially near the mouth and nose. These rubs also should not be used on infants and children younger than 2 years as they can be dangerous.
Warnings and Precautions
Most coughs in toddlers occur due to a cold, which will go away in a few days. But identifying a cough due to pneumonia or asthma is crucial. If your child has rapid or difficult breathing, seek emergency medical care. If the cough persists for more than 2 weeks with no improvement, or you hear wheezing or barking, or it is accompanied by persistent fever, call your child's doctor right away.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Consumer Healthcare Products Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend not giving over-the-counter oral cold and cough medicines to children younger than 4 years due to potential risks.
- Canadian Family Physician: Honey for Treatment of Cough in Children
- Pediatrics: Effect of Honey on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study
- American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs: Use of Codeine- and Dextromethorphan-Containing Cough Remedies in Children
- World Health Organization: Cough and Cold Remedies for the Treatment of Acute Respiratory Infections in Young Children
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: OTC Cough and Cold Products: Not for Infants and Children Under 2 Years of Age
- Pediatrics: Vapor Rub, Petrolatum, and No Treatment for Children With Nocturnal Cough and Cold Symptoms
- DailyMed: Vicks VapoRub - Camphor (Synthetic), Eucalyptus Oil and Menthol Ointment
- Chest: Vicks VapoRub Induces Mucin Secretion, Decreases Ciliary Beat Frequency, and Increases Tracheal Mucus Transport in the Ferret Trachea
As a pediatrician and a mother, Sandra Beirne has experience caring for children from both perspectives. A graduate of the University of Washington Medical School and the University of Rochester Pediatric Residency Training Program, she has published her writing in Environmental Health Perspectives and has an active pediatric practice.