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Everything You Need To Know About Your Toddler’s Dry Cough

Here are some of the causes and treatments.

If we’re being honest, toddlers are total tsunamis. They drop food on the floor all the time and then pick it right back up and eat it — even if the dog has already given it a good lick. If they’re not running around being their little boisterous “I do it!” selves, then they’re the total opposite: sniffling, sneezing, and spiking a fever. There’s no doubt that they’re pint-sized petri dishes, which sometimes leads to a cough, too. And if you’ve been woken up one too many times at night from the hacking, you might find yourself asking, “Why does my toddler have a dry cough?” It could be nothing, but this isn’t something you want to diagnose yourself.

Kids cough. (And they usually do it right in your face without covering their own mouths so that everyone can catch those cooties, bless their hearts.) But the cause of the cough can really run the gamut from something innocuous to being a much bigger deal, Dr. Rebekah Diamond, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist in New York City and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University tells Romper. “There are a huge number of reasons a kid can have a dry cough, and it’s incredibly important to partner with your pediatrician to make sure you have the right diagnosis before starting any treatment,” Diamond says.

Here Are Some Reasons Why Your Toddler Has A Dry Cough

No two coughs are the same, but some are easier to trace than others. “Some causes of a cough include colds and viruses, or post-nasal discharge,” Dr. Alison Mitzner, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician and author of Calm and Confident Parenting, tells Romper. But if you notice that your child is “barking” when they cough, there’s a reason for that, too. “A barky cough at night (which is called ‘croup’), can be another reason for it, along with a cough with fever or vomiting.”

“The most common causes of cough are cold viruses, asthma, allergies, and sometimes severe heartburn (acid reflux),” Diamond adds. “If a dry cough is coincidental with other viral symptoms, and even persists for a few weeks after, that’s usually just from the virus.”

Here’s When To Be Concerned If Your Toddler Has A Dry Cough

Although coughing can be irritating to your kiddo (and potentially keep both of you up at night), you may want to call your child’s pediatrician if it gets worse. “Depending on the type of cough, how long your child has had the cough and other symptoms, your child may be experiencing, they can determine if they need to see your child in the office,” Mitzner says. “It is most important to ensure that your child is breathing comfortably and not having any difficulty breathing.” If your child seems to be struggling to breathe well, you should reach out to your pediatrician immediately or take your child to the nearest ER.

Here’s How To Treat A Toddler Who Has A Dry Cough

Assuming that the cough is more annoying than anything else, there are ways to treat it — just contact your pediatrician first. “Reach out to your pediatrician to determine the cause of the cough and what can be done for the cough depending on the cause,” Mitzner advises. As for some home remedies, you have options, Dr. Arunima Agarwal, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician in New York, explains to Romper. “You can give some nasal saline spray (and then suction), or some extra fluids to your toddler,” Agarwal says. “You can even give your child plain honey if they’re older than 12 months-old.”

“Humidifiers can be helpful for kids, especially if they have asthma and/or allergies,” Diamond adds. “Just make sure they stay clean and don’t become contaminated with dust or mold.” And think twice before grabbing that over-the-counter cough medicine, Mitzner advises. “You should not use over-the-counter cough medicine without first speaking with your pediatrician,” she says. Plenty of rest and hydration can also help cure your kiddo’s cough, too.

A cough here or there isn’t something to be too concerned about. But if your child’s cough lasts for several days without any reason, happens throughout the day, or is keeping your kiddo (and the entire house) up at night, you should speak to your pediatrician. And that way, the cacophony of coughing should quickly come to a close.


Dr. Alison Mitzner, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician

Dr. Rebekah Diamond, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist in New York City and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University

Dr. Arunima Agarwal, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician in New York