Cough in Babies – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment 

New-born babies are more prone to viral infections including common cold and cough because their immune systems are not strong and fully developed yet. Persistent cough in babies can lead to a painful throat accompanied by aches and shivers. It is upsetting for parents to watch babies suffering from the discomfort due to prolonged cough. This is why it is important to know the causes, symptoms of cough, and how it can be prevented.


Video: Cough in Babies – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Types of Cough

There are four types of cough that affect babies and these include wet cough, dry cough, croup cough and whooping cough. Here is an overview of the cough types and what they mean for your child.


Croup Cough: Croup is a disease associated with a dry, woofing and harsh cough. A child suffers from a swollen upper trachea or windpipe. The swelling below the vocal chords is responsible for the barking sound. You may also notice that the child makes a high-pitched sound during breathing, known as stridor.

Dry Cough: This is a broken cough resulting from infection due to cold or influenza in babies. It affects the upper respiratory tract, including the nose and throat. You may notice that such a cough gets worse in warm temperatures or the moment the child retires to bed.

Wet Cough: A wet cough occurs when phlegm and fluid secretions accumulate in the lower respiratory tract that comprises the windpipe and lungs.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis): A child with whooping cough will show symptoms comparable to normal cough, but it worsens with frequent bouts of coughing especially during nights. The recurrent coughing fits will be followed by a series of five to 15 abrupt coughs one after the other. The child may take deep breaths which sound like whooping.

What Causes Cough In Babies

Babies cough in order to rid themselves of mucus or because of irritation due to swollen airways and throat. There are several reasons for coughing in babies, but the most common reason is cold or flu.

Cold: A cold can result in a cough, and the baby will be troubled by a runny or stuffy nose accompanied by watery eyes, sore throat, and fever.

Flu: Flu is similar to a common cold. In this condition, the baby will have a runny nose, fever, and could also experience diarrhoea or vomiting. The cough because of flu will be ‘dry’ and not ‘chesty’, meaning that your baby will have lesser mucus to cough up.

Croup: If the baby is suffering from croup, then the swollen airways will cause coughing. With narrow airways, babies will find it difficult to breathe.

Whooping cough:  The child will cough up a lot of mucus and make a ‘whoop’ sound while breathing in air. It is generally a bacterial infection.

Asthma:  Asthma can be one of the reasons for the baby to begin coughing. A baby suffering from asthma will have a chest that is tighter, and wheeze while breathing in and out.

Tuberculosis (TB): Continuous coughs that refuse to go away can be a sign of TB. A cough resulting from TB will stay for close to two weeks. A baby might cough blood out, feel breathless, and show loss of appetite, accompanied by fever.

Viral infections: These can lead to conditions such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Choking: If you notice the child coughing all of a sudden and wheezing because of a blockage in the nose or throat, it could be because he has inhaled a foreign object.

Cough Signs And Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of cough should raise an alarm for parents because it could be the cause of some serious illness as well. The symptoms vary according to the cause of the cough. Some of the symptoms are given below:

  • A cough as a result of cold is loose and may form mucus. It gets worse at night because when the child lies down, mucus drops from the back of her nose and mouth into the windpipe. At times, the cough might stay for up to six weeks even when other symptoms of cold have gone
  • A cough resulting from asthma is mostly worse at night. It could be accompanied by wheezing and breathing difficulties
  • In case you notice a barking, hoarse cough it would be a possible sign of croup
  • If your child has just recovered from a cold but is troubled with bouts of coughing for many weeks after the cold, it could be whooping cough. The condition can get serious and the child may appear somewhat blue because of temporary oxygen deficiency during breathing
  • If a child less than a year old keeps coughing and has breathing difficulties, these could be symptoms of bronchiolitis

Tests for Cough

Most children with coughs don’t require any tests. You can find the cause of cough by keeping a note of the history of coughs in your child. Also note the other symptoms that accompany the cough. Generally, cough tests for babies which are prescribed by doctors include a chest X-ray for checking pneumonia.

Treatment For Baby Coughing

If your child is experiencing spells of coughing too often, then you can consider the following treatments:

1. Giving soups or hot liquids can give relief from discomfort and irritation in the chest and can loosen mucus of the baby with cough.

2. It is suggested that the child be allowed to inhale air with moisture. You can ensure this in following ways:

  • Keep a cool-mist humidifier where your child rests.
  • You can even let a warm shower run in a closed bathroom and sit in it with your child once the room is filled with steam for around 10 minutes.
  • You can try keeping a wet towel in your child’s room.

3. A child with a dry cough or croup cough may feel better after inhaling cool air. The cool air will lessen the inflammation in the respiratory tract. You can try this in the following ways:

  • Keep your windows open to let the child breathe in cool and humid air.
  • You can also take your child on a drive with the car windows open.
  • You can let the child snuffle the vapour from a freezer or open refrigerator.

4. You can give cough medications after consulting a paediatrician.

5. There are vaccinations for whooping cough for children. But remember, even after the vaccination, there is a possibility that the child may develop a mild condition of the disease.

Make sure you consult your child’s paediatrician for all the above options.

Effective Home Remedies for Cough in Infants

You can find some relief for your coughing baby by turning to these effective baby cough remedies available at home:

  • Breast milk: If possible, breastfeed your baby because breastmilk contains antibodies which help the baby’s body build immunity against germs, viruses and bacteria
  • Massage with infused coconut oil: Heat half cup of coconut oil with one pearl onion, two to three tulsi leaves and one betel stem. After switching off the gas add a pinch of camphor. Applying this oil on areas such as chest, neck and under arms can ease nasal congestion and trigger an open and smooth airflow
  • Garlic and carom (ajwain) pouch: Garlic and carom seeds are good for cold treatment because of their anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. For this, dry roast two big cloves of garlic and one tablespoon of ajwain. Once it cools down, place the mixture in a clean muslin cloth to make a tight pouch. Keep the pouch hidden under the baby’s pillow or cot. The aroma from the pouch can help in opening the blocked nose and provide relief from congestion
  • Massage with mustard oil infused in garlic and carom oil: For this, take about one-fourth cup of warm mustard oil infused with crushed garlic. Massage this oil on the soles of the baby’s feet and chest. A pinch of carom seeds can be added to this too. Mustard oil has a warming effect that helps soothe congestion
  • Turmeric paste: Mix some turmeric powder in water to form a paste and heat it in a ladle. Apply the paste on the chest, forehead and feet. The heat from the turmeric can absorb the mucus and give relief
  • Eucalyptus oil: This oil has expectorant properties (helps bring up and expel mucus) and can be used for cold relief. Add one-two drops of eucalyptus oil in cotton and keep it in the baby’s room
  • Tomato and garlic soup: These ingredients when added to soup help in strengthening the immune system and preventing occurrence of cold and cough

  • Ajwain water with jaggery: Ajwain contains antimicrobial properties. Boil one cup of water with a pinch of ajwain and one teaspoon of jaggery. Then strain, cool, and give one teaspoon once a day for baby cough relief
  • Carrot juice: Carrots contain beta carotene and choline which are effective against asthma. Give your baby carrot-juice diluted in boiled water
  • Kesar tilak: This is a traditional remedy in which a few threads of saffron (kesar) are rubbed to form a paste and applied on the sole and forehead of the baby at night. It is believed that it helps in absorbing the water stored in the baby’s forehead
  • Hair oil made from drumstick leaves: Heat half a cup of coconut oil and add some drumstick leaves, which are rich in Vitamin C. When the leaves release their oils cool the mixture. You can use this oil on baby’s hair during cough, cold and congestion
  • Chicken soup: Chicken soup can relieve cold symptoms and help relieve congestion and cough
  • Rub garlic ajwain pouch: Garlic and ajwain, as discussed earlier, are good for relieving cough in babies. A variation of this home remedy is to take some ajwain and garlic in a muslin cloth and make a pouch. Then place the pouch on the pan and let it warm up. Check for the temperature before rubbing it on the baby’s chest
  • Honey: It is known for its mucolytic effect or its capability to soften dry cough. You can administer a spoon of honey for soothing baby cough. Make sure you administer this remedy only if your baby is older than 1 year as honey can trigger botulism (a kind of poisoning) in babies under 1 year of age
  • Ginger and Tulsi: Crush ginger and tulsi to extract the juice and add honey before giving it to your baby

Effect Of Cough On Babies

The child suffering from cold will have a stuffy, runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes and poor appetite. The child may make sounds like whooping and barking because of the cough. It will be difficult to catch breath and this may cause disturbance in sleep. The child may turn irritable because of breathing problems which are accompanied with wet cough and phlegm.

When To Visit A Doctor

Most coughs in babies get better in a few days with care and rest. However, if your baby shows any of the following symptoms, you should visit the doctor:

  • If the child is suffering from a dry cough which lasts for more than four days
  • The dry or wet cough is accompanied with a cold and fever, wheezing, and spells of coughing
  • The child is wheezing rapidly, groaning, turning blue or rapidly retracting and expanding his stomach
  • The child is experiencing appetite loss and weight loss

How To Keep Baby Away From Cough

You can protect your child from cough in the following ways:

  • Make sure your child is covered up in cold weather
  • Seek treatment for asthma if that is the trigger of persistent coughing
  • Protect against infections with appropriate vaccines
  • Don’t let the child eat whole nuts or play with small objects that can be easily inhaled. This will prevent choking
  • Ensure basic hygiene like washing hands to stay away from cold and flu germs

These tips can go a long way in preventing recurrence of cough in your child.