Healthcare Library

Spanish Version
Print-Friendly
Bookmarks
bookmarks-menu

Cold medicines and children

OTC children; Acetaminophen - children; Cold and cough - children; Decongestants - children; Expectorants - children; Antitussive - children; Cough suppressant - children

Over-the-counter cold medicines are drugs you can buy without a prescription. OTC cold medicines may help relieve symptoms of a cold.

This article is about OTC cold medicines for children. These cold remedies should be used with caution. They are not recommended for children younger than age 4.

About OTC Cold Medicines

Cold medicines do not cure or shorten a cold. Most colds go away in 1 to 2 weeks. Often, children get better without needing these medicines.

OTC cold medicines can help treat cold symptoms to and make your child feel better. They may:

  • Shrink the swollen lining of the nose, throat, and sinuses.
  • Relieve sneezing and an itchy, runny nose.
  • Clear mucus from the airways (cough remedies).
  • Suppress coughs.

Most cold medicines also include acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to help relieve headaches, fever, and aches and pains.

Younger children are usually given liquid medicines using teaspoons. For infants, the same medicine may be available in a more concentrated form (drops).

Use OTC Cold Medicines With Care

OTC cold medicines may cause serious side-effects, including:

  • Seizures
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Reduced consciousness
  • Reye syndrome (from aspirin)
  • Death

Certain medicines should not be given to children, or only after a certain age.

  • DO NOT give cold medicines to children less than 4 years old.
  • ONLY give cold medicines to children ages 4 to 6 years if your doctor recommends it.
  • DO NOT give ibuprofen to children younger than 6 months unless directed by a doctor.
  • DO NOT give aspirin if your child is younger than 12 to 14 years.

Taking too many different medicines also may cause harm. Most OTC cold remedies contain more than one active ingredient.

  • Avoid giving more than one OTC cold medicine to your child. It may cause an overdose with severe side effects.
  • Replacing one cold medicine with another may be ineffective or cause an overdose.

Follow the dosage instructions strictly while giving an OTC medicine to your child.

When giving OTC cold medicines to your child:

  • Ask yourself if your child really needs it - a cold will go away on its own without treatment.
  • Read the label. Check the active ingredients and strength.
  • Stick to the right dose -- less could be ineffective, more could be unsafe.
  • Follow instructions. Be sure you know how to give the medicine and how often to give it in a day.
  • Use the syringe or measuring cup provided with the liquid medicines. DO NOT use a household spoon.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your pharmacist or health care provider.
  • Never give OTC medicines to children less than 2 years old.

You can also try some home care tips to help relieve cold symptoms in infants and younger children.

Store medicines in a cool, dry area. Keep all medicines out of the reach of children.

When to Call the Doctor

Call the provider if your child has:

  • Fever
  • Earache
  • Yellow green or gray mucus
  • Pain or swelling in the face
  • Breathing problems or chest pain
  • Symptoms that lasts longer than 10 days or that get worse over time

Talk to your doctor to learn more about colds and how you can help your child.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics, healthychildren.org website. Coughs and colds: medicines or home remedies? www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chest-lungs/Pages/Coughs-and-Colds-Medicines-or-Home-Remedies.aspx. Updated June 26, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2018.

Miller EK, Williams JV. The common cold. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 379.

US Food and Drug Administration website. Reducing fever in children: safe use of acetaminophen. www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm263989.htm. Updated January 26, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2018.

    • Tips on buying cold and flu medicines

      Animation

    •  

      Tips on buying cold and flu medicines - Animation

      They call it the common cold for a reason. Colds are extraordinarily common. Children average 3 to 8 colds a year and adults almost that many. I'm doctor Alan Greene and I want to give you a couple of tips about navigating the cold and flu aisle at the drug store. Many of the offerings that are there will offer relief in several different ways. They may have a decongestant in there to try to reduce nasal congestion. An antihistamine that may help a bit with sleep or may also help with some congestion. They may have a cough suppressant in there to make you cough less. An expectorant to make your cough more productive, so you can cough things out easier and may have something to bring down a temperature or relieve aches and pains, like acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. But if you pick-up more than one of these, it's pretty common for people to double-up on a specific ingredient. So, if you're using more than one, look at the ingredient list. You don't want to see the same thing on both. For instance, if you have the decongestant pseudoephedrine on two different lists, the double-dose is not good for you and doesn't add any extra help. But beyond that, you don't even want to find the same action in two different multisymptom things. So if you have, taking a decongestant, you don't want a decongestant in the other one, whatever kind of decongestant it is. And as reminder for kids under 6, decongestants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants have not been shown to help them any better than placebo and do have some side-effects. So, I don't recommend them at all for kids under 6.

    • Cold treatments for kids

      Animation

    •  

      Cold treatments for kids - Animation

      When people started saying that you shouldn't use decongestant, antihistamine, or cough suppressants in kids under 6 or maybe even kids under 12, parents started asking me lots of questions. What do you do when your child has a cold? It's like you've tied both hands behind our backs. I'm Doctor Alan Greene and I'd like to start answering that question. The first thing is, it's not that the doctors are trying to hold back the good stuff. Studies have shown that those things just don't work in children. Children aren't the same as adults, and even though some studies have shown affect in grown-ups before puberty, there's very little evidence that they are helpful and they can cause side effects. There is evidence though that other things help for instance for cough, plain old honey - a spoon full of honey works better than DM cough syrup. Of course you want to save honey for kids over one because of concerns about botulism in babies. Cough drops are another thing that can really help for coughs and for sore throats. When sucking on a cough drop, it can help increase saliva production and antibodies and reduce cough - great thing to do for kids who are old enough that you're sure that they are not going to choke on it, usually four and above. For congestion you might try saline nose washes or saline nose drops can be helpful and shown in some studies to help, and in a number of studies steam has been shown to help, too. You can use a hot shower or a vaporizer if the child is not at an age when they will run over and trip and scald themselves. And if they are at an age of concern, you can get a little personal vaporizer. You can supervise and put their face over it and inhale the steam that way. There are a number of herbs that have been shown to help in different ways, too. Echinacea has been shown in some studies to be helpful for cold and flu. Valerian root for helping kids sleep when they have a cold. Zinc the mineral has been shown to be helpful in colds when kids are zinc deficient and many American kids are, so there are a lot of things you can try but whatever you do try, within a week or so your child's life will be back to normal and it's not worth trying anything that might cause dangerous side affects.

    • Common cold

      Animation

    •  

      Common cold - Animation

      Most people have a general idea that when they start sneezing, their nose is runny, and their throat is scratchy, they're getting a cold. But what do you do about it? The common cold is something very common that people usually get on average three or more times during a year. And it is a virus that's primarily in the nose. The three main symptoms of a cold are sneezing, nasal stuffiness, and runny nose. You may have other symptoms, like having a fever of 100? or 101?, or you may have some tickling or scratchiness in the back of your throat. In fact, that may be the very first symptom, a little scratch in the back of your throat. Then after a couple days the nasal discharge tends to turn a little bit darker, maybe a little greener. Then after about a week, you're all the way better. So, what's the best way to treat a cold? The first thing you need is plenty of rest and fluids. Water, juice, and clear broth can help replace fluids you may lose during a fever. Chicken soup is another great choice, in fact, it can help relieve congestion. In short, chicken soup really is good food. Over-the-counter oral cold and cough medicines may help ease adult symptoms, but they don't treat the virus that caused your cold. In fact, so far there is no cure for the common cold. ALSO, don't give a child under 6 any cold medicines, they won't help your child, and they may have serious side effects. And antibiotics? They won't help a cold, and, if you take them too often, antibiotics can break down your body's ability to benefit from them in the future when you may really need them, such as when you get the flu. In general, remember that getting plenty of rest and fluids is the best way to help you deal with your cold symptoms. Eventually, your cold symptoms usually go away, probably in about a week. If you still feel sick after a week, see your doctor to rule out a sinus infection, allergies, or any other medical problem.

    • Tips on buying cold and flu medicines

      Animation

    •  

      Tips on buying cold and flu medicines - Animation

      They call it the common cold for a reason. Colds are extraordinarily common. Children average 3 to 8 colds a year and adults almost that many. I'm doctor Alan Greene and I want to give you a couple of tips about navigating the cold and flu aisle at the drug store. Many of the offerings that are there will offer relief in several different ways. They may have a decongestant in there to try to reduce nasal congestion. An antihistamine that may help a bit with sleep or may also help with some congestion. They may have a cough suppressant in there to make you cough less. An expectorant to make your cough more productive, so you can cough things out easier and may have something to bring down a temperature or relieve aches and pains, like acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. But if you pick-up more than one of these, it's pretty common for people to double-up on a specific ingredient. So, if you're using more than one, look at the ingredient list. You don't want to see the same thing on both. For instance, if you have the decongestant pseudoephedrine on two different lists, the double-dose is not good for you and doesn't add any extra help. But beyond that, you don't even want to find the same action in two different multisymptom things. So if you have, taking a decongestant, you don't want a decongestant in the other one, whatever kind of decongestant it is. And as reminder for kids under 6, decongestants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants have not been shown to help them any better than placebo and do have some side-effects. So, I don't recommend them at all for kids under 6.

    • Cold treatments for kids

      Animation

    •  

      Cold treatments for kids - Animation

      When people started saying that you shouldn't use decongestant, antihistamine, or cough suppressants in kids under 6 or maybe even kids under 12, parents started asking me lots of questions. What do you do when your child has a cold? It's like you've tied both hands behind our backs. I'm Doctor Alan Greene and I'd like to start answering that question. The first thing is, it's not that the doctors are trying to hold back the good stuff. Studies have shown that those things just don't work in children. Children aren't the same as adults, and even though some studies have shown affect in grown-ups before puberty, there's very little evidence that they are helpful and they can cause side effects. There is evidence though that other things help for instance for cough, plain old honey - a spoon full of honey works better than DM cough syrup. Of course you want to save honey for kids over one because of concerns about botulism in babies. Cough drops are another thing that can really help for coughs and for sore throats. When sucking on a cough drop, it can help increase saliva production and antibodies and reduce cough - great thing to do for kids who are old enough that you're sure that they are not going to choke on it, usually four and above. For congestion you might try saline nose washes or saline nose drops can be helpful and shown in some studies to help, and in a number of studies steam has been shown to help, too. You can use a hot shower or a vaporizer if the child is not at an age when they will run over and trip and scald themselves. And if they are at an age of concern, you can get a little personal vaporizer. You can supervise and put their face over it and inhale the steam that way. There are a number of herbs that have been shown to help in different ways, too. Echinacea has been shown in some studies to be helpful for cold and flu. Valerian root for helping kids sleep when they have a cold. Zinc the mineral has been shown to be helpful in colds when kids are zinc deficient and many American kids are, so there are a lot of things you can try but whatever you do try, within a week or so your child's life will be back to normal and it's not worth trying anything that might cause dangerous side affects.

    • Common cold

      Animation

    •  

      Common cold - Animation

      Most people have a general idea that when they start sneezing, their nose is runny, and their throat is scratchy, they're getting a cold. But what do you do about it? The common cold is something very common that people usually get on average three or more times during a year. And it is a virus that's primarily in the nose. The three main symptoms of a cold are sneezing, nasal stuffiness, and runny nose. You may have other symptoms, like having a fever of 100? or 101?, or you may have some tickling or scratchiness in the back of your throat. In fact, that may be the very first symptom, a little scratch in the back of your throat. Then after a couple days the nasal discharge tends to turn a little bit darker, maybe a little greener. Then after about a week, you're all the way better. So, what's the best way to treat a cold? The first thing you need is plenty of rest and fluids. Water, juice, and clear broth can help replace fluids you may lose during a fever. Chicken soup is another great choice, in fact, it can help relieve congestion. In short, chicken soup really is good food. Over-the-counter oral cold and cough medicines may help ease adult symptoms, but they don't treat the virus that caused your cold. In fact, so far there is no cure for the common cold. ALSO, don't give a child under 6 any cold medicines, they won't help your child, and they may have serious side effects. And antibiotics? They won't help a cold, and, if you take them too often, antibiotics can break down your body's ability to benefit from them in the future when you may really need them, such as when you get the flu. In general, remember that getting plenty of rest and fluids is the best way to help you deal with your cold symptoms. Eventually, your cold symptoms usually go away, probably in about a week. If you still feel sick after a week, see your doctor to rule out a sinus infection, allergies, or any other medical problem.

      Self Care

       

      Review Date: 10/11/2018

      Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
      adam.com

       
       
       

       

       

      A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.
      Content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.

      ways to give

      view all

      news room

      view all

      healthcare library

      view all
      Event Calendar

      Hunterdon Healthcare offers an array of educational events, including childbirth, healthy living and fitness classes.

      LEARN MORE
      Health and Wellness Centers

      Where health and fitness meet to help you stay healthy at every age.

      LEARN MORE
      Heart & Vascular

      Heart and Vascular Services Department brings world-class cardiovascular care to our community.

      LEARN MORE