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Why is My Child Coughing at Night?

A child’s night cough can be stressful. It can interrupt sleep and disrupt daily routines, making both you and your child irritated.

While your child coughing at night may sound upsetting, it usually isn’t a sign of anything serious. Many of them are caused by a postnasal drip. A postnasal drip is often caused by infections, like a cold or allergies. When they’re lying down, this mucus can get into the throat, causing irritation. Coughing itself is a natural and necessary part of the body’s defence system. It helps to clear airways of unwanted mucus and irritants.

Here, we’ll explore the reasons why your child could be coughing at night, alongside some possible treatment options – so you both can get a good night’s sleep.

In this guide:
•    Types of a child’s night coughs
•    What to do for a baby or toddler with a cough at night
•    When to seek medical advice for a child’s night cough
•    Child coughing at night: FAQs

Types of a child’s night coughs

Let’s take a look at some of the different types of a child’s night cough and the different symptoms to look out for.

Post-nasal drip cough

A toddler’s cough at night is usually caused by a postnasal drip, which itself is caused by colds, flu , or allergies. Your sinuses and airways are naturally lined with mucus which helps to trap unwanted particles and irritants.

When you’re stood up, gravity helps this drain away. Lying down can cause this mucus to collect in the throat and cause irritation, which can trigger your child coughing at night. Some infections and allergies can also make sinuses swell, which can lead to a blockage.

Keep an eye out for coloured mucus in their cough , as this could be a sign that a viral or bacterial infection is causing it.

Barky cough (Croup)

Croup is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the upper airways, like the windpipe and voice box. The inflammation can also affect your child’s breathing by restricting their airflow. It usually affects younger children – from around six months to three years, but it can affect older kids too.

If they have croup, you might notice that your child’s night cough sounds seal-like, usually called a ‘barky’ cough. This may appear quite suddenly, and they might also develop a hoarse voice. You may also notice that they begin to wheeze, which can sound quite high-pitched, which, along with other symptoms, can be worse at nighttime.

Whooping cough

Whooping cough is caused by a bacterial infection – your doctor may also call it pertussis. It affects the lungs and airways and can easily spread to other people. It’s very important that your child is vaccinated against whooping cough as it can cause serious health problems.

There are a few signs to look out for if you’re worried about your child coughing at night, and if they might have whooping cough. The cough itself may last for several weeks, but, at first, they might develop cold-like symptoms such as a:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • High temperature – although this is not as common.

After about a week or so, you might notice that:

  • Your child begins coughing in the day and at night, usually in bouts. This will most likely be worse at night too.
  • They start to make a ‘whooping’ sound – which can sound like they’re gasping for air.
  • They’re struggling to breathe after they’ve been coughing. Babies might also turn a little blue or grey because of this. Older kids may go red in the face.
  • Your child’s coughing brings up mucus. This can be quite thick and make them vomit.

Coughing with wheezing

Your child may also be wheezing while they’re coughing at night. If they are, this could be a sign that they have asthma. Asthma affects the lungs and airways – and is often a long-term issue. With asthma, you might find that your child also begins to wheeze and is short of breath.

Asthma is a common condition, especially in children – although you can develop it no matter how old you are. The main symptoms to look out for are:

  • Coughing – which can be worse at night and in the morning
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest.

Coughing with vomiting and fever

If your child is coughing and feels unwell with flu-like symptoms , or has a fever, this could be a sign of pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs and can be either viral or bacterial. It can inflame the airways and fill them with fluid, meaning it affects how the lungs work.

It’s often the case that children younger than two years old are most at risk of developing pneumonia because their immune systems are weaker – although anyone can get it.

Because of this liquid, a pneumonic cough may also produce phlegm and mucus. It can also make your child:

  • Feel nauseous or vomit
  • Have a fever
  • Have diarrhoea.

Newborns or very young babies may not show the same signs of infection. They may still vomit and have a fever, but they might also:

  • Become restless
  • Be easily tired
  • Have a cough.

Please speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about your child coughing at night or any of the above symptoms.

What to do for a baby or toddler with a cough at night

When a child has a cough, it’s usually a sign of another infection, like a cold. The best thing is to make sure they get lots of rest and keep hydrated. However, there are also some other home cough remedies that you might want to try.

Give them a teaspoon of honey

Honey can help with your child’s coughing. Please note, though, you shouldn’t give honey to children under one, because it could trigger something called infant botulism – which is a rare condition but can be very harmful. A teaspoon of honey can help to reduce mucus production, meaning it can soothe an irritating cough.

Let them drink plenty of warm fluids

When they’re ill – just like adults – children should keep hydrated. This means drinking plenty of fluids. Warm fluids especially can help soothe their sore throat and thin mucus, to help it pass easier. You could try warm water with lemon, or a water-based soup. Keep in mind that babies under six months should only have water that has been boiled first, then cooled down.

Set up a humidifier in their room

Moist air can open up the sinuses, which can help when airways are inflamed due to a cold. This, in turn, might help them to cough less.

Give them a warm shower

Just like with a humidifier, a warm shower can help to open the airways and soothe their cough. It could be a good idea to do this right before bed, which is when their cough might get worse. Make sure to always supervise them in the bathroom.

Use saline nasal spray and suction

A saline nasal spray and nasal suction can be a great way of clearing your child’s airways. It might not be their favourite, but removing the mucus can help reduce their coughing at night. The saline spray helps to break down the mucus, which can make it easier to suck it out.

Soothe with BENYLIN® cough syrup

There are various BENYLIN® products  available over the counter, which are suitable for children. They can help to soothe your child’s cough . BENYLIN® Children’s Dry Cough & Sore Throat Syrup soothes dry and tickly coughs – and is suitable for kids aged one and over. It can also help to soothe inflammation in your child’s chest.

When to seek medical advice for a child’s night cough

Colds and viruses are common in children – in fact, they can get around eight or more just in a year. If they have a cough, it shouldn’t usually be a cause for worry.

However, you should contact your doctor if:

  • Their cough has lasted more than three weeks.
  • They are very hot and shivering or have a temperature. This could mean they’ve come down with a chest infection.

Your doctor can prescribe certain medications to treat infections, like antibiotics. They may also test your child for asthma if their cough is triggered by exercise or has lasted a long time.

If your child is finding it hard to breathe, call 999 or go to A&E as soon as possible.

Child coughing at night: FAQs

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