Treating Colds in Young Children--Without Cold Medicine

July 4, 2016 Reema Basu, MD

treat-colds-without-cold-medicineAs a parent, you hate to see your child suffer when she is sick. So when your little one comes down with a cold, your first instinct may be to treat that runny nose or cough with cold medicine. But that actually isn't helpful for small children, says Reema Basu, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group.

"In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended that parents not use cold medicines such as expectorants, antihistamines, decongestants and cough suppressants on children 2 and younger because the ingredients in those medicines could cause damaging side effects such as increased heart rate, convulsions or loss of consciousness, and those medicines didn't have any proven benefit for children that young," Dr. Basu says. "The American Academy of Pediatrics takes it a step further, and recommends that cold medicine not be used with children younger than 6."

So what can you do when your youngster comes down with the sniffles? "Common colds don't have a cure--generally, you can relieve discomfort from cold symptoms with simple care guidelines at home, without the need for cold medicine," Dr. Basu says. Among the suggestions:

Cough it up. "Coughing helps the body get rid of mucus, so you wouldn't want to use a cough suppressant anyway," Dr. Basu says. "Warm drinks are soothing for a child's throat and airways, as is honey--the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a half-teaspoon for children ages 2 to 5 and 1 teaspoon for children 6 to 11." Infants less than a year old should never be given honey, Dr. Basu stresses. If your child needs help clearing out chest congestion, try leaning her forward or laying her on your lap face down and lightly tapping her back to try and help clear mucus, the academy suggests.

Water, water everywhere. Fluids are helpful to prevent dehydration and can give comfort to a feverish child. "Water is ideal, but you can also dilute some fruit juice with water if it helps your child drink more, or even try a frozen fruit pop or chicken soup," Dr. Basu says.

Keep it cool. "A cool-mist humidifier can ease breathing for a congested child," Dr. Basu says. "That can be especially helpful at night, so your child can get the rest she needs to rebound from her cold."

Saline is the solution. Relieve stuffy noses with saline drops or spray. "For smaller children who can't blow their noses well enough on their own, follow up with the use a bulb syringe to help draw out the mucus," Dr. Basu says.

Ease the pain. Colds and fevers can leave kids achy and uncomfortable. "You can use children's ibuprofen or acetaminophen as a pain reliever, but it's a must to follow dosage directions exactly and use the provided measuring cup or dropper," Dr. Basu says. "If you have any concerns about giving your young child a pain reliever, ask your pediatrician."

Usually, common colds will resolve themselves on their own, but there are certain cases where a doctor's visit may be necessary. "Children younger than 3 months who are sick should be seen by a doctor," Dr. Basu says. "Fever may also necessitate a trip to your doctor's office--schedule an appointment if there is any sign of fever in a newborn 2 months old or younger, or if a fever reaches 102 degrees for children older than that. If your child complains about pain in the ears or a cough that won't go away, or if you notice she is irritable, doesn't want to eat or drink anything or has blue lips, it's best to consult with your pediatrician." 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.



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