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Paul Horowitz, MD

Cough in Babies

How to get to the bottom of what’s causing baby’s cough — and how to clear it up.

What is a cough like for a baby?

A cough is one of your baby’s many lines of protection, helping to instinctively clear away nasal drip, phlegm or mucus, or keeping the airway clear of food. You won’t hear many babies under four months old cough, but most parents have heard their child cough here and there by their first birthday.

What could be causing my baby’s cough?

Most of the time when your baby or toddler is coughing, it’s simply one of the many stages of a cold. But your child can also be coughing if she’s got allergies, an ear infection or asthma, or if something around her (dust, smoke, pollution) is irritating her airwaves. A more serious concern for babies under one year old is respiratory syncytial virus, which can lead to an inflammation of the small bronchial tubes (bronchiolitis) or even pneumonia. Babies can also develop croup, a barking-like cough caused by the flu virus.

When should I take my baby to see the doctor with a cough?

If she develops a fever, is short of breath, is less than three months old or has difficulty breathing, or if the cough lasts more than a few days, see your doctor.

What should I do to treat my baby’s cough?

Many of the children’s cough remedies we used to see at the pharmacy have been taken off the shelves because of potential complications in very young children, but there are still plenty of ways you can help ease your baby or toddler’s symptoms. For starters, use a cool-mist humidifier in her room at night or have her sit in a steam-filled bathroom for a few minutes. For babies over one year old, a teaspoon of honey is one of the tastier ways to ease coughing. You can also try a menthol chest rub — be sure to look for one specially formulated for infants or toddlers.