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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Soothing Your Child’s Cold

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More than 100 different viruses cause colds. No wonder a vaccine for your child's cold does not yet exist! And because viruses cause colds -- not bacteria -- antibiotics aren't effective against them. So treatment for a child's cold or a child's sore throat is usually a matter of easing symptoms with self-care measures and over-the-counter (OTC) children's cold medicines. But remember, children's OTC cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4 years of age.

First Steps for Relieving Your Child's Cold Symptoms

For a child's cold, often the simplest solutions are the best: rest, fluids, keeping the air they breathe moist with a humidifier, and a lot of tender loving care. Then let your child's cold run its course.

Drinking extra fluids thins mucus, helping it to drain. Drinking fluids can also ease a child's sore throat. Try a variety of fluids such as warm water or tea with lemon and honey (honey only for 12 months and older), Popsicles, or chicken soup.

Moist, warm air also improves draining and breathing and can ease a dry, sore throat.

What About Children's Cold Medicines?

If rest, fluids, and other self-care steps don't make your child comfortable, especially at night, should you try children's cold medicine? Cold medicines are not recommended for young kids -- younger than 4 years old. Many OTC cold medicines contain multiple ingredients -- some of which your child may not need. And some may include a pain reliever too. If you don't read labels carefully, you may give your child too much medicine. If you have any questions about OTC children's cold medicine, be sure to ask the pharmacist or doctor. And read the packaging label carefully before giving your child OTC medicine.

Below are several types of cold medications, along with alternative ways to relieve the same symptoms.


  • Decongestant nose drops such as Afrin (FDA approved for use in children 6 years and older) or Neo-Synephrine (FDA approved for use in children 12 years and older) open nasal passages and reduce congestion. Do not use them for more than two to three days. Extended use actually triggers the body to produce more congestion in response to the chemical.
  • Oral decongestantsinclude medications such as Children's Sudafed. Common side effects include sleeplessness or hyperactivity, so avoid giving oral decongestants at bedtime. Unfortunately, these medications rarely work for more than an hour or two.
  • Saltwater nose drops and sprays, readily available at drug stores and many supermarkets, are just as effective as decongestants. They have no side effects and can be used in very young children.

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