Antihistamines are present in some cold medicines, but they work only for seasonal or occasional symptoms of allergies. They aren't effective in treating viral symptoms caused by a cold. They also can cause sleepiness and a dry mouth. Benadryl is an example of an antihistamine.
Cough expectorants may help thin mucus, allowing your child to cough it up more easily. Robitussin is an example of a cough expectorant. Your child needs to drink a lot of water while taking a cough expectorant for it to work.
Warm tea or water with honey and lemon works just as well as cough expectorants to soothe inflamed throat membranes. Warm liquids can also reduce the "tickle in the throat" and dry cough that result from post-nasal drip.
Steam, coupled with drinking plenty of fluids, is an effective expectorant. Be careful not to burn your child with the hot steam. Ask your pharmacist for specific directions and advice.
Cough suppressant medication is rarely the best solution for a cough. Coughing is a natural defense mechanism that allows the lungs to clear mucus - and with it, some of the infecting virus. Although a cough can be troublesome and keep a child awake at night, cough suppressants don't help clear mucus. Delsym is a cough suppressant approved for use in children 4 years and older.
Fluids and humidity are effective ways to ease symptoms while allowing the lungs to continue to clear mucus.
Other Ways to Relieve Cold Symptoms
Throat sprays are a soothing way to ease a child's sore throat. Lozenges can cause a child to choke and shouldn't be given to young children.
Analgesics reduce fever and relieve aches and pains. Tylenol, Motrin, and Aleve are examples of analgesics. Ask your health care provider or pharmacist which type of analgesic is right for your child. Make sure you don't give your child aspirin, which can cause a fatal condition called Reye's syndrome.
Don't forget to have kids blow their noses often! There is no better way to get rid of mucus. Nasal aspirators can help with younger children who can't blow their noses. Ask your pharmacist where to find them in the store. Choose an aspirator with a plastic tip and rubber bulb. These tend to have better suction and be less irritating to children than the larger, all-rubber style. Suction each nostril 8 to 10 times in a row. The mucus may come out like a string. If the child is stuffy and nothing is coming out, try 3 to 4 drops or sprays of salt water in each nostril. Wait 2 minutes, and then suction again.