7 Ways to Calm a Cough Your Pediatrician Won’t Tell You About

Treat Cough's with Home Remedies

Every cold and flu season many children come down with a head cold that results in a cough. Coughing can be uncomfortable and downright irritating if it’s strong and persistent or keeping everyone up at night. It may be annoying, but it is the body’s way of trying to expel all the bugs that make us sick and clear out phlegm that clogs our breathing tract. Hearing your child cough night after night can be enough to tempt you to give them over-the-counter cough medicine.

I’m not going to sugar coat this: Over-the-counter cough syrup doesn’t work for children. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend the use of cough medicine at all in children under age 6 because they don’t work and are unsafe (1). Most cough and cold medicines contain dextromethorphan (DXM) which can be harmful and even fatal in about 5% – 10% of children who can’t properly metabolize it.(2) Don’t take my word for it, here is what the AAP has to say on over-the-counter cough & cold medicines for kids:

…research has shown these products [over-the-counter cough and cold medicine] offer little benefit to young children – and can have potentially serious side effects.  Many cough and cold products for children have more than one ingredient, increasing the chance of accidental overdose if combined with another product (3).

What Cough Medicine Labels Should Say

Even though children’s cough medicine doesn’t work it’s still on drug store shelves today! (I’ll refrain from inserting some snide, but funny, comment here). Rather than take these ineffective and unsafe products off the market, drug companies have relabeled them with a warning that they shouldn’t be used in children under 4. You may not easily find this warning since the front of the box usually says, “Children’s Cough Medicine,” meaning most people are going to assume it is safe for their kids. Unless you turn the box over and check the dosage information you may not realize it.

As if to prove my point, while I was taking pictures of the cough medicine at the drugstore for this post, a mom and her three children (all clearly under the age of 4) came down the cough and cold aisle and the mom quickly grabbed a box of children’s multi-symptom cough and cold medicine and plopped it into her cart.

DecievingCoughMedicineLabel

Stop a Cough Naturally
If medicine doesn’t work what else can parents do to help treat a child’s cough beyond rest, fluids, humidifier and cough drops? Here are seven natural ways calm a cough your pediatrician won’t tell you about.

1. Pediatric Tuina Massage for Cough
Whether your child has a wet, dry, hacking or croupy cough these massage techniques work by stimulating the body to heal itself while simultaneously treating the cough. Please see my post Treating Cough with Pediatric Tuina Massage for instructions on how to do this massage on your child. I also have a video so you can see how to do it. Kids love it, it feels great and it makes them feel better. The best part is it’s safe, effective and can be used at any age.

2. Honey & Lemons
Ok, you’re pediatrician might tell you about honey because it is officially recommended by the AAP for cough, but you don’t want any ordinary highly processed honey bear. What really works is raw, dark amber honey. Buckwheat honey has received the most research for cough, but you can use any dark amber raw honey like avocado or blackberry. Local dark honey is great, too. I use local raw Uvas Gold Apiary Honey for coughs in the winter and allergies in the spring.

Honey Works Best to Treat Cough

Honey Dosage for Cough
For children ages 2 to 5 years use 1/2 teaspoon, children between 6 – 12 use 1 teaspoon and children 12 year and older use 2 teaspoons. It can be given 2 – 4 times daily as needed for cough. CAUTION: For children 12 months or younger do not give them honey.

Lemon and Honey tea is a great way to soothe a sore throat and calm a cough. Honey helps to break up mucous and the astringent nature of lemon juice does the same thing while also providing vitamin C. Here is a recipe from NourishingJoy.com for a Homemade Cough Syrup . NourishingJoy.com also recommends an easy-to-make cough syrup using a ratio of  1 TBS honey & 1 tsp lemon juice.

TIP: Don’t buy honey cough syrups from the drug store. They may contain honey and herbs but most also have preservatives and “natural flavor” which is food industry code for “a long list of chemicals we aren’t required by law to reveal on the label.” Honey is yummy and it shouldn’t require natural flavors to be palatable!

Eliminate Dairy
Why give up dairy? It creates or adds to mucous production. Even if your child can normally tolerate dairy, take it out of their diet while they’re sick, especially if they have a wet phlegmy cough. It will lessen the phlegm and the burden of getting rid of it through coughing.

Herbal Tea
Herbs like licorice root, mullein, sage leaves, wild cherry bark and slippery elm can be made into a tea with a little honey to calm a cough. If you’re in a rush or you don’t have these herbs on hand you should be able to pick up a tea called Just for Kids Throat Coat by Traditional Medicinals. Throat Coat has many of the herbs recommended above and it’s formulated with kid’s safety and tastes in mind. It’s usually available in grocery stores and it has a very pleasant taste for a medicinal tea. It’s not only good for cough but works for sore throats too.

Essential Oil Chest Rub
Essential oils can help break up chest and nasal congestion when used in a chest rub. But if you’re like me you don’t want to use petrochemicals, like those contained in Vick’s Vapor Rub. Instead you can mix a drop each of eucalyptus, peppermint and sage essential oils in about 2 TBS of organic olive oil and make your own herbal oil. If you prefer a salve, then try this recipe from NourishingJoy.com for a “vapor rub” or you can pick Gaia’s Warming Vaporous Rub, a safe pre-made chest rub, available at your local health food store.

Essential Oil Steam Bath
A warm steamy bath can also help a nighttime cough. Start a hot bath using the shower, close the bathroom door and let the room get steamy. Add a few drops of eucalyptus or sage into the tub to soothe a cough and open up the chest.

Organic Poached Pears with Cinnamon
This is a personal favorite for dry, tickley coughs. Eat 1/2 to 1 pear before bed. It is so delicious and it feels great on a dry, scratchy throat.

Directions:

  1. Wash & core pears
  2. Halve pears lengthwise
  3. Sprinkle flesh with cinnamon and put a cinnamon stick in the core.
  4. Put in a pyrex glass baking dish with the fleshy part + cinnamon stick down
  5. Add about 1/2” water to the pan

Bake at 350 until the pears are soft and the skins are easy to pull off (20-30 min).  Will store in the fridge for 3 – 4 days.

Recommendations from other Doctor Moms
Here are more suggestions on how to treat cough, colds and flus naturally from moms on the front lines.

Common Sense Caution
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s cough you should contact a medical doctor or qualified health care provider like an acupuncturist or naturopathist specializing in pediatrics.

RED FLAG: Coughing may be due to another more serious illness. If a cough comes on suddenly with high fever, restlessness, difficulty breathing, wheezing, lethargy, chest tightness and/or difficulty swallowing your child may need immediate medical attention.

If a lingering cough is associated with wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing it may be a sign of asthma.

Rarely, but sometimes, a chronic cough may be caused by tuberculosis.

What Kitchen Remedies Do You Use for Your Child’s Cough?
Join the Conversation & Leave A Comment Below

References

Paul, IM, KE Yoder, KR Crowel, ML Schaffer, HS McMillan, LC Carlson, DA Dilworth and CM Berlin Jr.. “Effect of dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, and placebo on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents..” NCBI Pub Med. Pediatrics, Jul 2004. Web. 18 Jan 2013. .

Magarey, Jim. “Dextromethorphan (PIM 179).” IPCS INCHEM. In Chem, 1996. Web. 19 Jan 2013. .

“Cough and Cold Medicine Not for Children.” Www.aap.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2004. Web. 19 Jan 2013. <http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/aap-press-room-media-center/Pages/Cough-and-Cold-Medicine-Not-for-Children.aspx>.

Paul, IM, J Beiler, A McMonagle, ML Schaffer and CM Berlin Jr.. “Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents..” Http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, Dec 2007. Web. 19 Jan 2013.

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Comments

  1. Thanks. Some great advice. Another thing you may want to highlight is Propolis spray for sore throats.

    My mom would also make a “salad” that had red onions, lemon, salt, and garlic. You can eat the salad or drink a shot glass of the juice from the salad with honey for flus, colds and coughs.

  2. Thank you for all these great tips! I’m pinning it for later. :)

  3. My 4 kids all have asthma, sometimes the honey helps and sometimes it doesn’t. I have tried all these methods and there are still some coughs I can’t get them to kick without albuterol… Do you have any suggestions specifically for asthmatic kids? I hate giving my kids steroids

    • Melissa,
      I totally understand not wanting to use steroids for you kids cough. The only general advice I can give for a persistent asthma cough is to avoid processed foods, artificial colors and flavors as they can contribute to inflammation (an underlying process in asthma). I have had a lot of success treating persistent lingering coughs in asthmatic kids with acupuncture (both needle and non-needle techniques) and herbs. There are some fantastic herbal formulas that can help safely and effectively open the air ways, but you would need an acupuncturist to prescribe them. Acupuncture can helps stimulate the body to heal itself. For more info on how acupuncture can help asthma, check out my guest blog post on boogordoctor.com http://www.boogordoctor.com/2011/04/ask-the-expert-acupuncture-for-childhood-asthma/

    • Melissa, I’m a little late but my son had pneumonia really young and still gets very wheezy from it when he gets sick. I read that saline solution in a nebulizer worked wonders for asthma so I gave it a try for my son with some homemade saline and it works very well. I don’t know if you’ve tried that but I thought I would suggest :)

      • Hi Melissa,

        Thanks so much for that tip! That’s a great suggestion!

        ~ Robin

      • My son has asthma and always ended up in pneumonia or bronchitis. The saline in the nebulizer worked great for him. I also add a drop (or less depends on the age) of eucalyptus oil with the saline. The eucalyptus has save him of getting infections because of the mucus and of ending with pneumonia. My pediatrician approved it. It’s really good for the bad cough at night. I 100% recommend it!

    • Try using black seed oil for asthma. This is called habbatus sauda in arabic and is a very good natural remedy for allergy related illnesses like asthma. You can mix with honey and give 0.5, 1 or 2 teaspoon depending on age.

  4. Last year my 16yo daughter caught a bug that turned into seven months of coughing! She is fit, strong and eats incredibly well, from bone broths, home grown eggs, wild caught salmon by the bucket load, pastured butter and coconut oil to minimal sugar, gluten and so on…
    At first she was just given a Rx for cough syrup, which did nothing, then the strong stuff cough syrup which did barely more than nothing. By this time six weeks or so had gone by and my husband was getting irritated and wanted antibiotics so I asked for them, for all four kids, they all had it. We got our Zpacs, which did nothing. So I went back to my favorite health care provider (DNP) who is an hour away. She muscle tested my daughter and came up with a positive for mycoplasma. Prescribed a longer course of azythromycin, to no avail. Second attempt was Cipro, for another long round. Nada. Then she said o.k., no more antibiotics (this is why she’s my favorite, and BTW, she has never prescribed antibiotics for myself or my children before, this was a special case.) Then she said sports induced asthma and put my daughter on a couple inhalers, one of which was steroid but only for one month, to see if we could at least achieve a little healing in the lungs. Still not much results. Meanwhile I had been trying everything in my mama arsenal: loads of broth, vitamin C, nettles, garlic on the soles of her feet, colloidal silver, NAC… you name it, we probably tried it. Still, not so much for healing.
    Finally our DNP recommended accupuncture and referred us to a friend who lived in our neck of the woods. After one treatment my daughter slept through the night for the first time in months. Three more and we stopped, because she seemed to be doing much better, no symptoms and money, among other things was running low!

    • Oh my goodness, Beth! What an amazing story. It’s a real testament to how acupuncture can stimulate the body to heal itself. In my practice I’ve had a couple cases similar to your daughter’s and it’s amazing how just a few teeny tiny needles can make such a big difference. Thanks so much for sharing!

      • Robin,
        I had more to the story which I tried to post as a reply but for some reason it just disappears into cyberspace.
        Bottom line is I came across some information, in my never ending search for complete healing for my daughter, which said that the herb mullein is THE herb for lungs and milk is THE food for lungs. I am using it now: a strong mullein infusion mixed in equal parts with milk (in our case it is raw milk), heated to the point of steam around edges of pot and sweetened with honey.
        I am interested in the origin of the milk causes mucus theory and if, in fact, you have experience that would prove it to be true.

        • Beth,
          That’s very interesting about the mullein and milk. In TCM herbology, certain herbs will have specific actions on the organ systems. Mullein certainly connects and affects the lungs. With regard to milk, the whole mucus issues relates to 1) drinking pasteurized milk which is devoid of the enzymes that help the body digest it and 2) in TCM, rich foods tend to create dampness, i.e. phlegm, in a person who is vulnerable to dampness (like someone with a wet cough). I have seen many children in my practice where eliminating dairy allows the body to heal from coughs and chronic low immunity. In some cases, reintroduction of raw dairy later doesn’t cause the child to be symptomatic.

          • We have been drinking raw milk since before she was born. I was surprised that she gave it up but figured maybe it was her body saying, no thanks, don’t need that right now. Just as surprised to see her slugging it down happily now. Kids. Ya just never know what they’re going to do. But I AM happy to see her back on this raw milk, especially if it helps her lungs to repair themselves. So far she definitely has a more vibrant glow about her… nice to have some hope. It was dreary there for a stretch.
            Thanks for getting back to me and explaining TCM. I had a hunch about your first point, that it was pasteurized milk rather than live milk.

          • Hello Beth, hello Robin,
            I can say the same from my homeopathic practice in Gemany about elimination and reintroduction of dairy.

  5. I love all of these natural remedies for coughs! Herbal teas and honey are my two favorites to use myself whenever I get a cold or cough (although I’ve found that since I’ve started eating a real-food diet I get far fewer colds and that they hardly ever come with the nasy lingering cough like I used to get when I was a kid!) Those poached pears with cinnamon sound absolutely delicious too :)

    Thanks for sharing with Old-Fashioned Friday!

  6. hello Robin thank You for this great blog, I loved it. Especially the poached pear recipe, I will try it next time. I am a homeopathic doctor in Germany and I recommend my patients often black radisch arranged with honey for some hours.

  7. Thank you so much for these useful tips !! it can save a lot of money and time !!

  8. While going through your website, it was such a relief to know that there are so many parents who believe in home remedies. Honey Lemon syrup remedy is quite handy, I am going to try this out today itself for my son.
    My son has started going to creche since past 4 months and since then i have observed that he is getting cold and severe cough ( which develops into phlegm ) every month. Doc told me he is prone to bronchilitus thats the reason he is getting infected so frequently, but i cant see him taking those buckets full of medicines and nebulizer any more. If you have any other suggestions please let me know it will be great help ! By the time am trying all possible solutions available in my kitchen which might soothe his coughing.

    • Hi Deepika,

      Home remedies are a great start. If you think your son needs more support I would recommend working with a pediatric acupuncturist that can give me advice that will be customized for his specific situation. Let me know how the honey-lemon-ginger syrup works! My kids LOVE it!

      ~ Robin

  9. Great post! Everything I was looking for right here. Thank you so much.
    Lauren recently posted…Pinning for PLAY | New Link Party for Children’s Activities, Crafts and more!My Profile

  10. Thanks for the tips! Now time to ditch the useless over the counter syrup and replace with these homemade remedies

  11. Chrissie H says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! My 2 1/2 year old son rarely gets sick (maybe twice a year he gets a cold and cough spell mostly because of the time of the year where everybody gets it). I’m no big fan of medicines so I rarely give it to him and just let the cough runs its course. But there are time that I give in to the OTC medicines and it never really works. I am so definitely going to try all these great suggestions on your website on how to treat dry cough, especially the tuina massage. He is going to love it coz he likes it when we give him a back and hand rub. :)

  12. mrs. ichipi j. says:

    my son has a recurrent cough, after I read thru your article I decided to try the honey and lemon to see if there will be any improvement.

  13. Hi

    Just came across your website while searching for cough relief home remedies. All tips are looking great, but I am not sure which one should I use for my 3 years old son, who is suffering from dry cough for more than one month.
    I gave him cough syrup but they never work.. And usually give him honey too But nothing seems to work.

    • Hi! I would suggest contacting a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist to prescribe an herbal formula to address your child’s cough. Also, a few acupuncture treatments might do wonders. Let us know how it goes!

      ~ Robin

    • I would definitely try the massage for cough. Do it several times a day and I think you’ll see the condition shift. :)

  14. My 6 year old daughter is just getting over influenza a (along with 3 others in the family). She was feeling better but has developed an atrocious cough. :( She has been taking Delsym every 12 hours…prob 4 doses total. Tonight…her cough is out if control. We had her take a cough drop and have given her 2 nebulizer treatments. Nothing touching it…until I came across your website and the massaging. Her dad is massaging her finger and she had coughed maybe 3x since. I’m shocked…and their dad just might be a believer! ;)

  15. Thanks for the great information. My son is coughing up a storm right now and we all can’t get any sleep. I’ll try all the recipes and see if my sons cough will go away. Thanks again!

  16. Hi,

    I have used samurai virus buster as a preventative measure for two years now. Whenever I feel early cold symptoms I use it. Considering this, I have experienced not even shortest colds in the last two years.

  17. I just bought Samurai Virus Buster because I was starting to feel a cold coming on like a freight train. Well, I started using it and I am feeling great. I can’t believe it.

  18. Milk does not cause mucus. That’s an old wives-tale with NO scientific backing. If you have an infant continue giving your child breast milk. Breast milk is important for infants to help fight colds. Please add that to your blog :-)

    • Robin Green says:

      Hi Gene,
      You are 100% correct that breast milk is the very best food for infants. When we speak of removing dairy from your child’s diet during a time when the child has a phlegmy cough, we are just talking about pasteurized dairy products that come from cows.
      Pasteurized dairy products that come from cows have a different composition and chemical make up than breast milk and can be harder for a baby to digest and can more frequently cause extra phlegm to form.
      Sorry for the confusion, I hope that makes it more clear for you and others reading the blog :)

  19. Humera Ahsanullah says:

    Hi Robin I bumped into your site while searching relief for my dry tickling and hacking cough. I am simply thankful to you for putting up search a resource for everyone. I have two little ones and I am definitely trying the Tuina massage and the homemade cough syrup. I may not make the cough drop recipe. Having a nutrition background academically, I studied that Honey is a wonder drug in its natural state. It belongs to the complex carbohydrate group and has a separate pathway of absorption in the body due to which it can be given to even diabetics. However, once you warm the honey, cook it or boil it, honey looses it natural state and turns into simple sugars like glucose (simple carbohydrate). Based on that, I think we may loose the healing potential of honey should we heat it. Correct me if i am wrong. Thanks again for your website.

    • Robin Green says:

      Hi Humera, Thank you for checking out the KidsLoveAcupuncture blog. You are right that raw honey is a very powerful healing food. But please be careful, under the advice of the National Honey Board, not to give it to children under one year old as it can contain Clostridium botulinum spores that can cause infant botulism. Though it is rare, this is a serious disease that affects the nervous system of young babies (under one year of age). These spores are not a problem for adults or for pregnant women, but babies under one year old do not have a fully developed gastrointestinal tract. When the honey is heated, the spores are inactivated and do not pose any threat. You can read more about this on the National Honey Board website: http://www.honey.com/honey-at-home/learn-about-honey/
      Have fun with the tuina and I hope you throat feels better :)

  20. Is oil of oregano recommended for children/toddlers?
    Also, fit older children and adults, watercress does wonders I clearing up chest infections and congestion

    • Robin Green says:

      Hi Ruthy,

      Thank you for the tip about watercress. Herbs are very potent for healing so please be sure to use them wisely. I do use oil of oregano with children in specific situations where it is needed. It is very strong and powerful and can cause adverse side affects of not used correctly. For that reason, I suggest working with a practitioner so they can monitor the use for your particular situation.

Trackbacks

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