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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Kids' Cold Medicines: Guidelines

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Should my child use kids' cold medicine?

The current recommendations from the FDA are:

  • Do not use cold and cough medicines in children under age 4 unless advised by your doctor.
  • Never give adult medicines to children. Only use medicines designed for children.
  • Never use a cold or cough drug if your child takes other prescription or over-the-counter medicines, unless you’ve checked with the doctor first.
  • Carefully follow the instructions for dosing on the box.
  • Use the enclosed measuring spoon, dropper, or dosing cup.
  • Take your child to the doctor if symptoms worsen or don’t improve within a few days.

Also, many experts say that parents should go further and stop using any kids’ cold medicine in children under age 6 unless their doctors recommend it.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics called on the FDA to make such a recommendation. In addition, the AAP asked that OTC cold/cough medicine manufacturers to use weight-based rather than age-based dosing recommendations, saying weight is more accurate for determining the correct dose of a drug. The AAP also asked that dosing devices have a flow-limiting capacity to prevent against overdose.

What can I give my kids for a cold or cough?

Nothing cures a cold, but pediatricians say these strategies may help:

  • Call the child's doctor right away if he is three months of age or younger at the first sign of an illness.
  • Reduce the child's fever using appropriate medication (check with a doctor), such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). Do not use ibuprofen in children under age 6 months or if your child is vomiting or dehydrated. Do not use aspirinwith any child because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious disease.
  • Consider using honey for coughs or sore throat for kids, but only if they are older than age 1.
  • Try saline drops or spray to clear thick mucus out of your child's nose.
  • Give your child plenty of liquids to increase hydration and help thin mucus.
  • Use a humidifier in your child's room to add moisture to the dry air.
  • If your child wheezes, call your doctor. Other treatments may be needed to help open airways.
  • To ease congestion, keep the child's head elevated when resting.
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