Coughing at night can be upsetting for toddlers and caregivers. The cough may produce a barky or whooping sound. Usually, a child coughing at night occurs due to a virus that will clear up on its own.

When a toddler coughs, the sound they make or the symptoms that accompany them may help identify the cause.

They could be due to varying reasons, 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.

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Within the body, mucus coats the airways, trapping and removing irritants and fighting infection. But 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 post-nasal drip. It is a common trigger for nighttime coughing and sore throats. However, a post-nasal drip cough does not usually involve deep or wheezing coughs.

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

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

Croup is most common in children aged between 6 months and 3 years. The symptoms include a characteristic barky cough, which tends to get worse at night. Other symptoms include:

  • trouble breathing
  • noisy breathing
  • hoarseness
  • fever

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 nebulized epinephrine when a toddler has moderate to severe croup.

Learn more about croup here.

A distinct symptom of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a telltale whooping sound people make when they are gasping for breath after coughing. As many children receive whooping cough vaccinations, 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 be common in children with the condition. Whooping cough is very dangerous and even fatal in infants.

A bacterial infection is the cause of whooping cough, while a doctor can treat it with antibiotics. When receiving treatment for the condition, make sure the person drinks plenty of fluids. Eating small amounts more frequently can help prevent vomiting with violent coughing.

Learn more about whooping cough here.

Coughing and wheezing 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 here.

Coughing at night accompanied by vomiting is very unsettling for children and their parents or caregivers. Sometimes, these symptoms result from younger children being unable to cough up mucus effectively, so vomiting is how their bodies clear it.

In other cases, vomiting and coughing may suggest a more serious condition such as asthma or pneumonia.

Sometimes, if a child experiences dehydration through vomiting, it could trigger an asthma attack. It is important for parents or caregivers to monitor a child who experiences coughing fits and wheezing while sick with a vomiting bug.

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

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

These symptoms include:

  • rapid breathing rate
  • chills
  • painful chest
  • fever
  • fatigue

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

If parents or caregivers notice their toddler has a cough and fever at night, they should try not to worry. Instead, they can monitor the symptoms to see if they get worse.

Toddlers and babies with flu may experience:

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

When a toddler has the flu, it is important to keep them hydrated.

In addition, parents and caregivers should speak with a doctor. If the condition worsens without treatment, they could develop a middle ear infection.

It is also important to note that coughing and fever are two of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. If parents or caregivers believe their child has COVID-19, they should speak with a doctor, begin to self-isolate, and request a test. This is especially important if the child has encountered people who have recently tested positive for the illness.

When treating a toddler for a fever, parents should not give them aspirin. Instead, they should administer acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

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

  • running a warm shower or bath before bed, making sure not to leave them unattended
  • making sure they get plenty of rest
  • encouraging them to drink plenty of fluids

Studies show that honey could be an effective complementary treatment for nighttime coughing, due to its soothing properties. However, refrain from giving it to children under 12 months old, as it carries a risk of botulism poisoning.

Learn more about home remedies for toddler coughing here.

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

While nighttime coughing usually resolves on its own, if more serious symptoms develop, 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:

  • running a fever
  • coughing up blood
  • drooling and has difficulty swallowing
  • coughing for more than 2–3 weeks

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

If a toddler has severe symptoms, such as a fever or a cough that persists for more than 2 weeks, contact a doctor.