Infections often cause toddlers to cough at night. It may sound like barking or whooping. Caregivers can ensure children get plenty of rest and clear fluids, give them a warm bath or shower before bed and elevate their sleeping position to help prevent coughing.

The sound of a toddler’s cough and the presence of other symptoms may help identify the cause.

Coughs can have varying causes, such as the common cold, asthma, acid reflux, or a sinus infection.

Most coughs in toddlers get better in a few weeks. However, researchers estimate that 5–10% of children have a chronic cough that lasts 4 weeks or more.

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Inside the body, mucus coats the airways, trapping and removing irritants and fighting infection. Some conditions, such as infections and allergies, can cause people to feel mucus building up or trickling down their throats.

When excess mucus runs down a person’s throat, it is known as a postnasal drip. It is a common trigger for nighttime coughing and sore throats. A postnasal drip cough does not usually involve wheezing.

Helping a child sleep in a more elevated position may reduce postnasal drip coughs. If a toddler coughs more at night during certain times of the year or after playing with certain animals, they may have an allergy.

Consulting a pediatrician or allergist could help identify what they are allergic to and determine the best treatment.

Learn more about allergy coughs.

Croup affects 3% of children aged between 6 months and 3 years. The symptoms include a barking cough that tends to worsen at night. Other symptoms include:

Sometimes, cold-like symptoms may precede croup. The condition develops when the windpipe and vocal cords become swollen and inflamed. Male children are more likely to get croup than female children.

Although sleeping with a humidifier can be an effective treatment for some coughs that accompany congestion and colds, experts say it is generally not helpful for people with croup.

A doctor may prescribe dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, for toddlers in the hospital or at home. For toddlers with moderate to severe croup who are in the hospital, doctors may recommend nebulized epinephrine.

Learn more about croup.

In whooping cough, also known as pertussis, children make a characteristic whooping sound when gasping for breath after coughing.

If children receive the whooping cough vaccine at the recommended ages, they have significantly less risk of developing the condition. If they do get it, their symptoms tend to be mild or go unnoticed.

However, when people without whooping cough immunity contract the infection, their coughing fits may intensify. Vomiting may also occur. Whooping cough is very dangerous and even fatal in infants.

A bacterial infection is the cause of whooping cough, and doctors typically prescribe antibiotics. A child should drink plenty of clear fluids and eat small amounts of food more often than usual to prevent vomiting.

Learn more about whooping cough.

Persistent or recurring coughing at night could indicate childhood asthma, which affects roughly 6 million children in the United States.

Other symptoms of asthma in children include:

  • shortness of breath
  • tightness around chest
  • shallow, rapid breathing
  • symptoms getting worse around smoke, pollen, or other known triggers
  • frequent chest colds

If a child shows any asthma symptoms, speaking with a doctor as soon as possible means they can start treatment earlier and potentially avoid complications, such as an asthma attack.

Treatment of asthma involves long-term management or quick relief following an asthma attack.

Learn more about childhood asthma.

Coughing at night accompanied by vomiting is unsettling for children and their caregivers. It may happen when younger children cannot cough up mucus effectively, so vomiting is how their bodies clear it.

If a child is vomiting repeatedly and cannot hold down fluids or if they have been vomiting for more than a day, contact their doctor.

If a child with asthma is coughing, wheezing, and vomiting and their symptoms are not improving with their usual asthma treatment, their caregiver should contact their child’s doctor.

Learn what to do if a child has an asthma attack at home.


With pneumonia, a child may cough, vomit, and present with other symptoms that affect their overall health.

These symptoms include:

  • rapid breathing rate
  • flaring or widening of the nostrils
  • drawing in of the skin around the ribs and breastbone
  • chest pain
  • wheezing
  • bluish tint to the nails or lips
  • fever
  • fatigue

If a toddler experiences these symptoms alongside coughing and vomiting, take them to the emergency room. If a doctor diagnoses bacterial pneumonia, they will treat the condition with antibiotics.

Learn about how pneumonia spreads.

If a toddler has a cough and fever at night, it is often not a cause for concern. Caregivers can monitor a child’s symptoms for any changes.

Toddlers and babies with flu may experience:

  • fever
  • coughing
  • vomiting
  • changes in behavior, such as a loss of appetite

When toddlers have flu, they must drink plenty of clear liquids to stay hydrated. Caregivers can also speak with a doctor. If a toddler’s fever persists or their condition worsens, they could be developing a middle ear infection.

Coughing and fever are two of the most common symptoms of COVID-19.

Caregivers can give toddlers acetaminophen or ibuprofen to make them more comfortable with a fever. Caregivers should ask a doctor for dosage advice if a child is under 2 years. For children over 2 years, follow dosage instructions on the label.

Learn more about fever in toddlers.

The following steps may help alleviate coughing in children at nighttime:

  • Give them a warm shower or bath before bed, making sure not to leave them unattended.
  • Make sure they get plenty of rest.
  • Encourage them to drink plenty of clear fluids.

Research suggests that honey could be an effective complementary treatment for nighttime coughing due to its soothing properties. Children under 12 months should not have honey as it carries a risk of botulism poisoning.

Learn more about home remedies for toddler coughing.

Coughing is fairly common in children. Causes include colds and other viral and bacterial infections.

Nighttime coughing usually resolves on its own. However, if more serious symptoms develop, caregivers can speak with a doctor, who can help diagnose and treat the underlying cause.

A person should also contact a healthcare professional if the toddler is:

Nighttime coughing in toddlers has many causes. Listening to the cough’s sound and looking for other symptoms can help caregivers determine the underlying reasons.

Home remedies include ensuring a toddler has plenty of rest and clear fluids, giving them a warm bath or shower before bed, and elevating their sleeping position slightly. Children with a fever may also benefit from acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

If a toddler has severe symptoms, such as a cough that lasts 2–3 weeks, caregivers should discuss this with a doctor.