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Cough and Cold in Babies - What are the Causes

April 14, 2023

Coughing is our body’s response to dust and germs that get into the throat or airway. It is the body’s reflex action to clear the air passage in the throat and chest. Babies cough too. An occasional cough may be healthy, but a persistent one may signify infection and can lead to sleep disturbances or vomiting. While you cannot completely prevent your baby from catching a cold or developing a cough, you can help them through this difficult time.

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Cough and Cold in Babies

Watching your baby cough can be very hard for any parent. A baby’s immunity is very weak and still developing. So, they can catch a cold or cough quite easily and their bodies might take a long time to recover from it. You may want to help your child stop coughing but there is not much you can do. While some coughs may clear away on their own, some can persist and may require home remedies and detailed clinical evaluation and medicines to go away completely.

To Know More : What is a respiratory tract Infection?

What Causes Cough in Babies?

Some possible reasons behind your baby’s cough could be:

  • Irritants – We are surrounded by many particles in the environment and any of them can irritate your baby’s throat, resulting in a cough. It could be dust, smoke, pollen or even the smells from your kitchen. A baby’s throat can be irritated easily resulting in cough
  • Mucus – Mucus is a fluid that keeps the nasal passage moisturized and clean. When the body secretes a lot of mucus, like in a viral infection it can accumulate in the back of your baby’s throat, thus resulting in a bad cough.
  • Respiratory Tract Infection – Cold , flu, bronchiolitis and pneumonia are some of the common respiratory illnesses that can lead to a bad cough in babies. If your baby is constantly coughing, and especially if it is associated with fever , you should see a doctor. He/She might want to run some tests to rule out or confirm any of these illnesses.
  • Foreign Object – Babies are famous for mouthing almost anything and everything. If your baby tries to put something into their mouth or has put something down their throat they may start coughing. It may or may not cause gagging. Occasionally this incident may be not be witnessed by parents. If your baby starts coughing suddenly, without any existing cold or cough, and if such a cough is persistent, you should see a doctor.
  • Reactive airway disease- If your child develops frequent episodes of dry cough especially with a seasonal predeliction or specific triggers like exercise or cold weather, or with a family history of asthma, you may need to see a doctor to evaluate for a reactive airway disease /asthma and to rule out other causes for recurrent coughing and chest infections.

How to manage Colds and Cough in Babies

Every parent wants to know how to treat coughs in small babies. Especially as most cough and cold medications need to be administered cautiously in babies. Over the counter medications (especially cough suppressant medications) should be avoided in babies, and medicines should be given only as prescribed by your doctor.

However there are certain things parents can know and do to understand how to reduce cough in babies apart from medications. The following are some home remedies for you:

1. Humidifier – If the air is too dry around you, it can make your baby cough due to airway irritation. A humidifier can help restore moisture in the air and reduce throat irritation. However you need to ensure that the room is well ventilated.

2. Raised Head – For babies over one year of age, if your baby seems to cough while asleep, try elevating their head using a thin pillow. Head elevation should be done cautiously without causing the excessive forward bending of the head.

3. Steam inhalationInhaling steam every few hours can release mucus congestion in the air passage. However this needs to be done with caution so as not to cause scalds. One way is to let hot water run for a few minutes with the bathroom door closed. Next, carry your baby into the bathroom and stay for a few minutes. The steam-filled room will help relieve their congestion.

4. Warm Fluids – If your baby is over 6 months old, you can give them sips of warm water or soups to ease the cough.

5. Honey – If your baby is over a year old, you can give them a spoonful of honey twice or thrice a day to soothe irritated or dry throat.

To Know More : How to manage cold and cough in babies?

Persistent Coughs in Babies

When a baby catches a cold or a cough, their body needs to fight it and get over it. The time taken varies from child to child. However, how long is it OK for a baby to have a cough? When should you worry about a baby’s cough and seek medical help?

A mild cough from time to time is okay as it could just be your baby’s body eliminating dust and other irritants that enter the air passage. If your baby’s cough sounds very dry ,occurs in bouts or is accompanied by sticky mucus, or associated with fever you need to consult a doctor and get a prescription for medicines.

When it comes to very young babies who are less than 2 or 3 years old, it is always advisable to consult a doctor for every cold and cough. They might prescribe the same medicine as the last time, yet you should never self-medicate your baby.

If you notice any of the following, you need to take your baby to the doctor right away:

  • High grade persistent fever for 5 days or more associated with worsening cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty in taking each breath
  • Breathing is so tight that your baby can barely even cry
  • Hard breathing that causes chest indrawing or retractions (pulling in) with every breath
  • Baby appears lethargic or listless and unable to feed
  • Whooping cough – your baby has bouts of cough for several seconds to minutes with whooping noise every time they cough. This is particularly alarming if your baby is not vaccinated appropriately for age

How to Treat Mucus Cough in Babies

Some babies will have a dry cough and some will have a mucus cough. You can find out from the way the cough sounds. If it is a deep cough that sounds dry and strains your baby’s throat, sometimes resulting in a hoarse voice, it is a dry cough. On the other hand, if your baby spits up mucus or tries to keep it down and the cough sounds wet, it is a mucus cough.

Sometimes in case of a mucus cough, you need to consult your doctor. Based on the underlying cause, steam inhalation or saline nebulization or a suction bulb to remove mucus from nostrils may help. In case of nostrils dried with mucus, you can use nasal saline drops after consulting your doctor. Over the counter cough suppressant medications without a prescription should be avoided.

Must Read : Newborn Care During Summers


Occasional coughs in babies are generally nothing to worry about. In most cases, it could be just allergens or a common cold. If they are persistent or severe, or associated with fever you should consult a doctor and decide on the next course of action, rather than panicking.


1. What is the fastest way to relieve a child’s cough?

If it is a dry irritant cough, using a humidifier in the room or giving your child some warm liquids to relieve the cough quickly.

2. How does baby cough go away?

In most cases, a baby’s cough might go away on its own. Severe coughs might require some home remedies or medications for quick relief.

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