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Children and Colds and Croup

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How Are Colds in Children Treated?

Colds usually go away on their own without special medical treatment. Home treatments include the following:

  • Making sure your child gets plenty of rest.
  • Giving your child plenty of liquids.
  • Using a humidifier in your child's bedroom at night. The humid environment will help to keep your child's nose and chest clear, making it easier to breathe.
  • Using children's acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) to lower fever and reduce aches.

Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever. Aspirin may increase the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare disorder that occurs almost exclusively in children under the age of 15. It can cause severe liver and brain damage.

Talk with your health care provider before giving any child under age 4 an over-the-counter cold or flu medicine. In very young children with congestion, you can use a nasal bulb to gently remove mucus. You may also spray three drops of saline nasal spray into each nostril.

Remember! Antibiotics do not work in treating a cold. Antibiotics help kill some bacterial infections, but colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria.

Are Cold Medicines Safe for Children?

In October 2007, an FDA advisory panel recommended that no cold or cough medicines be used in children under 6. However, the FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4. The cold medicines in question include four different categories of drugs:

  • Cough suppressants (dextromethorphan or DM)
  • Cough expectorants (guaifenesin)
  • Decongestants (pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine)
  • Antihistamines (such as brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine maleate, diphenhydramine [Benadryl] and others)

You might not recognize these drugs by name. But they are the active ingredients in many brands of kids’ cold and cough medicines.

Your Child's Cold: When to Call the Doctor?

You should call the doctor if your child is not getting better after a few days of symptoms. You should call the doctor if your child experiences a high fever, vomiting, chills and shakes, a hacking cough, or extreme fatigue. These may be signs of something worse than the common cold -- it could be flu or something more severe. In addition, if your child has asthma, diabetes, or other chronic health conditions, call your doctor to touch base about medications, cold symptoms, and managing your child's medical condition.

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