Care for your child’s chesty cough with these tips

Emmy Samtani
Emmy Samtani
Emmy is the founder of Kiindred and mother to 3 little ones. Over the last 4 years, she has worked with some of the most credible experts in the parenting space and is a keen contributor on all things parenthood.
Created on May 15, 2024 · 6 mins read

Half-full lunchboxes, soiled clothes, and chesty coughs — what do these things have in common?

They all tend to make their way home from daycare or school on a semi-regular basis.

The first two will be dealt with and forgotten by morning, but a chesty cough can linger for weeks, often causing sleepless nights and worried parents.

Thankfully, there are some things you can do at home to help your child feel more comfortable and shorten the cough’s lifespan.

What is a chesty cough?

A chesty cough, otherwise known as a wet or productive cough, is a cough that produces mucus or phlegm, which comes up from the lungs and lower airways.

Though the cough often sounds far more serious than a non-productive or dry cough, that’s not always the case. Coughs — both wet and dry — are caused by all sorts of different viruses, bacterial infections, and other illnesses. They are simply the body’s way of cleaning the lungs and airways. Whether they are serious or not is more about what is causing the cough, how persistent the cough is, and the other symptoms you’re seeing.

If you’re not sure whether your child has a chesty or dry cough, our article on decoding your child’s cough will help.

When should I see a doctor for a child’s chesty cough?

Coughs are very common in children and are most often caused by viral infections spread through respiratory droplets in settings like schools and daycare. 

In healthy kids, this type of cough can be treated at home and will go away within two to three weeks. During this time, HealthDirect recommends you seek urgent care (call triple zero 000 for an ambulance) if your child:

  • Has a change in skin colour, turning blue or very pale
  • Is having trouble breathing
  • Is drowsy or unresponsive
  • Is choking

Take your child to their GP if you notice:

  • A cough that starts very suddenly
  • High fever
  • Lethargy or malaise
  • Fewer wet nappies than usual or seems dehydrated
  • Not eating or drinking much
  • Cough lasts longer than 2 weeks

A cough is considered ‘chronic’ if it persists for more than eight weeks. It is important to keep in close contact with your child’s GP if a chesty cough won’t let up to identify what’s causing it. 

How to care for your child’s chesty cough at home

If your child seems otherwise well, is not showing any of the warning signs listed above, or your doctor has ruled out any underlying health issues and advised home care, you’re probably feeling equal parts relieved and lost. 

On the one hand, it’s reassuring that your kid is just dealing with a typical cough, likely the cause of a virus. On the other, they’re still uncomfortable, and irritable, and you want to do anything you can to help them feel better. 

Good news — there are some simple steps you can take at home to care for your child’s cough:

1. Rest, rest, rest

No child wants to miss out on activities while bed-bound for days on end, but rest is absolutely essential to help the body heal faster. 

Our advice? Remove any screen time rules, cosy up as a family with movies and healthy snacks, and make all that rest feel like a bit of a treat. 

2. Stay hydrated

Dehydration leads to the thickening of sinus mucus, which makes it harder to cough up. This can prolong a cough and leave your child feeling uncomfortable — two things we’re trying to avoid here. 

Encourage hydration however you can. Water is always best, or rehydration fluid if you feel it is required. Other liquids like juice or milk, jelly, icy poles, and water-rich foods like watermelon, cucumber, and strawberries can also be offered to help keep hydration levels where they should be. 

3. Try a cough medicine

A cough medicine can help to loosen up that mucus, making it more likely to clear. It can also soothe the chest and calm the airways to help your child feel more comfortable and break the cycle of coughing so they can sleep, eat, and hydrate properly.

Propan is a clinically proven* chesty cough medicine shown to reduce cough symptoms and improve chest congestion in 93% of cases. It is a non-drowsy, sugar-free formulation that can be used at home to help shorten the length of a cough. We love that it has a natural cherry flavour kids actually enjoy — and the fact that it has been researched in over 57,000 children. 

Prospan can be used by children aged 2 and above. Follow the dosage and frequency directions, read the label, and speak to your doctor if you have any questions about taking this product. 

4. Run a humidifier at night

Breathing in dry air makes mucus harder to cough up, prolonging or worsening the cough as a result. A humidifier puts moisture in the air, which is then breathed in to help moisturise the lungs, throat, and nasal passages. This helps loosen mucus and soothe irritated airways, providing some relief from a cough at night. 

If you have a humidifier with an aroma diffuser built in, you can also add some essential oils like eucalyptus, rosemary, or cinnamon to help relieve congestion and provide some respiratory relief. 

5. Use saline drops

Post-nasal drip is when mucus from the back of the nose or sinuses makes its way down to the chest where it sits, often prolonging a cough or even causing a secondary cough. 

A saline nasal spray can be helpful here — it moisturises the sinuses and also thins secretions to stop thick mucus from building up and worsening the cough. Saline drops are also great because they are all-natural and can be used regularly. 

6. Have a spoonful of honey

Honey has been used as a natural remedy for all sorts of ailments — and with good reason. It has antimicrobial and anti-inflammation properties that can help decrease irritation in the throat and speed up recovery time. 

In addition, a spoonful of honey right before bed can help soothe the throat and coat cough receptors to help your child get a good night’s rest — which is essential for recovery. 

A reminder — babies under one should never have honey. 

Commonsense care for coughs

Remember, coughs are common in kids — especially if they are in daycare or school and throughout the winter months.

If your child does have a chesty cough, keep calm, watch for escalating symptoms, and follow the steps above to help keep your child comfortable and shorten the length of the cough. With a bit of luck, that cough will be a distant memory in just a few weeks.

Always read the label and follow the directions for use. Not to be used in children under 2 without medical advice. 

*Lang, C et al. Planta Medica. 2015;81(12/13):968-74. Funded by Engelhard Arzneimittel GmbH & Co. KG. 



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