What Cough and Cold Medication Can I Give My Child?

Young children get lots of colds, some as many as 8 to 10 each year before they turn 2 years old.  Colds tend to be more common in fall and winter when children are indoors and in closer contact with each other. Of course you want to help out and give them cold medicine, but how do you know what to do? The products are confusing, the ingredients are confusing, the packaging is confusing, the display of the products on the shelves is confusing … and I am a pharmacist! Allow me to help clarify this issue.

What cough and cold medication can I give my child?
My child is less than 4 years old: The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of cough and cold medication under the age of four (and cautions until over 6 years of age). Cough suppressants and decongestants have not shown benefit in this age group and have been shown to cause serious side effects. In 2005,  1,519 children <2 years old were treated in emergency rooms in the US for adverse effects and overdoses from cough and cold medications. Some events were fatal.

My child is between 4 and 6 years old: See the recommendation for less than 4 years old or use medication with caution under the care of your physician.

My child is over 6 years old: Use with caution as directed on the box. Try to stick to products that have the least number of ingredients (that is the same advice I give adults!). That way you are only treating the symptoms your child is experiencing and not giving too many medications.

All children of any age: Age and weight appropriate doses of acetaminophen OR ibuprofen can treat pain and fever. Cool mist humidifiers help keep airways wet without introducing the risk of hot steam (bacterial growth and burns). Keep your child well hydrated. In young children saline nasal sprays and bulb suctioning can help them breathe through their nose.

Does honey help suppress coughing?
Yes. Honey helps coat the throat and the sugar may relieve symptoms as well. Only use if your child is 1 year or older. You can use ½ to 1 teaspoonful of honey at home or use a commercially available honey product. Be aware of the possibility of additional cough medications in any honey products you purchase.

Unfortunately,  more than 200 viruses can cause the common cold. So your best bet is to make sure your kids practice good hand hygiene  and avoid close contact with people who have colds or other upper respiratory infection. Prevention can be your best weapon!

Christine Prusa
Christine Prusa is the current Community Care Pharmacy Resident at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She spends time developing patient care programs out of the two outpatient pharmacies on Children’s Main Campus. She also participates on health care teams in Primary Care Yellow, Neurology Main Campus and South High Primary Care Ambulatory Clinics. In January Christine will be facilitating a workshop at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy for the first year student pharmacists’ drug information course. She enjoys cheering on the buckeyes, walking her dogs, and spending time with her husband, Brian.

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