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.
Since I originally wrote this post in 2013, I’ve updated it adding even more tools to help you with your child’s cough. So, now we have not just seven, but eight ways to calm your child’s cough naturally.
Many articles on treating kid’s cough naturally focus on things you probably already know – like stay hydrated, use a humidifier, cough drops and lemon-honey tea, etc, etc.
However, what you’ll find in this blog post are the BEST Chinese medicine and other natural remedies cough that are safe, effective and easily to administer to children. And you won’t find them anywhere else!
But, first… Why not just use OTC cough medicine?
When it comes to the ordinary, annoying cough, Western medicine doesn’t really have any great solutions that are both safe and effective. Yet, hearing your child cough night after night can be enough to tempt you to give them over-the-counter cough medicine.
Several large research studies confirm that there is NO evidence that OTC cough syrup works (1, 2). 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 (4).
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.(3) 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 (4).
Even though children’s cough medicine doesn’t work it’s still on drugstore shelves today! But, you don’t have to use it because there are much better options for treating your child’s cough naturally!
8 Ways to Stop a Child’s Cough Naturally & Safely
It’s important to understand that treating your child’s cough naturally is not a one-and-done. Instead, it’s about combining the right remedies that will work for your child according to their age and the type of cough they have.
For best results, it’s important to combine remedies, use them consistently, and have patience with the process.
1. Acupressure & Massage for Cough
In Chinese medicine, acupressure and massage techniques can treat a cough not matter what type it is: wet, dry, hacking or croupy. For acupressure to work, you need to do it consistently at two or three times daily.
However, if your child has a stubborn or a persistent cough you can strengthen the effect of acupressure by combining it with the other six other Chinese pediatric massage techniques. This combination is more powerful for a persistent and stubborn cough. Click here to download our free acupressure guide & learn more about this special massage.
It only takes minutes to do, yet it can make a HUGE difference in speeding recovery and getting everyone a good night sleep.
2. Ear Acupressure
Similar to reflexology, ear acupressure, or auriculotherapy, is a microsystem of healing that is found on the ear. It has been used for thousands of years.
According to Chinese medicine, applying pressure to specific points on the ear has a healing effect on the body. You can apply pressure with an ear probe or a clean rounded toothpick to have the desired effect. Alternately, an easier way to use ear acupressure is with ear seeds.The points for treating cough are shown in Figure 1 above. An even easier way to use ear acupressure is with ear seeds.
3. Honey & Lemons
Ok, your pediatrician might tell you about honey because it is officially recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for a 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
WARNING: For children, 12 months or younger do not give them honey.
Lemon, honey and ginger tea is a great way to soothe a sore throat and calm a cough. Honey helps to break up mucus and the astringent nature of lemon juice does the same thing while also providing vitamin C. Kresha Farber of 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!
4. Eliminate Dairy
Why give up dairy? In Chinese medicine, excess mucus is considered a form of dampness. Certain foods, like dairy and other rich, fatty, or fried foods, are also considered damp. So, eating a damp food like milk, cheese or yogurt while your child has a wet cough can contribute to excess mucus 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. NOTE: if your baby is breastfeeding or drinking cow’s milk formula as the main source of their calories, do not eliminate dairy.
5. 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.
Alternately, you can make an herbal tea by adding 1 teaspoon of honey plus 1 teaspoon of Cough Crusader herbal formula by Herb Pharm into 1 cup of warm water.
6. Essential Oil Chest Rub
Essential oils can help break up chest and nasal congestion when used in a chest rub for children ages 6 and up. But if you’re like me you don’t want to use petrochemicals, like those contained in Vick’s Vapor Rub. Instead, you can 1 drop each of your chosen essential oils in about 1 TBS. organic olive oil and make your own herbal oil.
If you prefer a salve, then I recommend Maty’s All Natural Vapor Chest Rub. Essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin. In children younger than 6, please check the essential oils for safety.
7. 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 essential oils such as wild mountain sage or fir needle into the tub to soothe a cough and open up the chest.
8. Organic Poached Pears with Cinnamon for Dry Cough
This is a personal favorite for dry, tickly coughs. Eat 1/2 to 1 pear before bed. It is so delicious and it feels great on a dry, scratchy throat.
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.
(1) Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for acute cough in children and adults in community settings. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD001831. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001831.pub5
(2) 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. .
(3) Magarey, Jim. “Dextromethorphan (PIM 179).” IPCS INCHEM. In Chem, 1996. Web. 19 Jan 2013. .
(4) “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>.
(5) 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.