By Nicole Gregory
No one likes to see a baby or toddler struggling with cold symptoms—particularly a cough that can linger for weeks. But the FDA and American Academy of Pediatrics both say cough syrup is a bad choice for young kids, because the meds aren’t effective and too much could be dangerous.
“Cough syrups have ingredients such as dextrorphan, which can be harmful,” says Mona Patel, MD, attending physician in the Department of General Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “We’ve had children brought into the emergency room because parents kept giving [cough medicines] to them.”
That’s scary stuff, but the fact remains: You want to be able to do something for a sick child. Thankfully, there are plenty of effective and safe baby cough remedies to choose from. Here, three simple, medicine-free solutions to help your little one feel better fast:
Nasal suction bulb Often, coughing is a reflex in response to an irritation, such as mucus, says Mona Patel. When a child has a stuffy nose, some of that mucus drains down the back of the throat and causes a cough. “For a baby with a runny nose, you can use a nasal bulb [a small rubber bulb available at drugstores] for suction,” she says. Baby cough remedies like adding saline drops to your tot’s nostrils, one at a time, then clearing out the mucus with the bulb, are easy and effective.
Honey For children age 1 and older, Patel recommends giving ½ to 1 teaspoon of honey. “It works by thinning out mucus secretions and loosens the coughing,” she says. Buckwheat honey, in particular, has been shown to soothe young kids’ coughs better than dextromethorphan-containing cough medications. (Honey’s also packed with healthy antioxidants, and its antibacterial properties promote wound healing.) Remember, never give honey to children younger than age 1 because of the potential for infant botulism.
Cold-steam humidifier Adding moisture to the air can soothe coughing, offering children comfort for cold symptoms, especially at night. Cold-steam humidifiers (like Vick’s Starry Night Cool Mist Humidifier) work especially well for croup, an inflammation of the larynx and trachea (voice box and windpipe) that creates a high-pitched, barking cough. Another simple solution: Take your child for a stroll in the cool night air. Cold air opens the windpipe, allowing more air to pass through.