Should I Give My Kid Cold Medicine?

Children’s Medicine

Is there a section of the medicine aisle that causes greater anxiety than the “children’s medicine” section? OK, maybe the “Family Planning” section, but it’s a close second.

Stacked across these aisles are dozens of cold remedies for kids, all with similar claims. We get questioned about these medications often, and no wonder! Everyone wants to help their kids feel better by whatever safe means are possible.

Differences Between Adults & Kids with Colds

When adults get a cold or sinus infection, it seems like second nature to reach for the Tylenol® Cold or the Nyquil® or whatever else we find in our medicine cabinets. But when it comes to kids, here’s what the AAP (that’s the American Academy of Pediatrics) has to say:

Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold preparations have not been adequately studied in children younger than 6 years of age and that they are not recommended for treating the common cold.

But surely these kids need relief from their symptoms, right? Why would AAP (and the FDA) make such a recommendation?

It turns out that OTC cough and cold combos have multiple ingredients and the risk of overdose is just too high. For example, acetaminophen (Tylenol®) can be toxic and is found in many of the combos. One of these might accidentally be given in conjunction with acetaminophen administered for fever, and then things are getting dangerous.

Also, the safety of antihistamines and decongestants has not been safely demonstrated in young children. In short, we don’t really know if it’s okay for them to take these medications.

We know you want to do something to help your little one. Here are six things you can do:

  1. Keep the nasal passages as clear as possible. Use a saline nasal spray and encourage frequent nose blowing. In younger kids, use a bulb suction or a nasal aspirator (NoseFrida®). Just keeping that snot clear can decrease the cough which comes from drainage down the back of the throat.
  2. Use a cool mist vaporizer which keeps that mucus loose.
  3. Use petroleum jelly on the nose occasionally to prevent chapped skin.
  4. Warm soup helps soothe the throat and sinuses.
  5. In kids over age one, you can give a teaspoon (or teaspoon-and-a-half) of honey to help with cough.  Seriously! There was even a controlled trial that showed honey decreased kids’ cough when given at bedtime.
  6. Low grade fevers don’t necessarily need to be treated. If your kiddo is really uncomfortable from the fever or can’t sleep, use ibuprofen or acetaminophen according to the dosing on the packaging.

Always See a Doctor if Your Child is Under 3 Months of Age

Always see a doc if your sick child is under 3 months of age. And at any age, you need to see a doctor if the child has a high fever, has a change in behavior, vomiting, or difficulty breathing.