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Kids' Cold Medicines: New 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 the age of 4 unless your doctor tells you to.
  • 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.

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 aspirin with 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 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.

Of course, parents should seek medical care as needed. 

The good news about colds? Children get over colds and coughs as quickly without cold medicines as with them.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 18, 2013
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