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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

How to Soothe Your Child’s Cold

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Tips for Giving Children Cold Medicines

Avoid combination products such as expectorant/antihistamine or cough expectorant/cough suppressant. These may work against each other. Some ingredients, such as antihistamines, may not work at all for a virus -- they can't help unless some of the symptoms are actually from an allergy.

Read labels carefully. Many cold medicines contain a fever and pain reliever such as acetaminophen. You don't need to give a separate dose to relieve aches and fever. If you do, you may be "double dosing." This can be dangerous for your child. If your child has a stuffy or runny nose but no aches, avoid painkillers.

Follow dosing recommendations closely, especially with infants. Talk to your pediatrician before you give any over-the-counter medicine to a child under age 4.

Consider generic cold medicines. They're cheaper, but they have the same active ingredients as brand-name medicines. They may also contain only one ingredient, which makes it easier to target specific symptoms without double dosing.

Before giving your child a cold medicine, especially if you have a young child, talk to your pediatrician or pharmacist and make sure the medicine is safe.

When to Call the Doctor

More often than not, your child's cold will simply run its course, and you won't need to go to a doctor.

But call if you see any of these symptoms, which can be a sign that your child has gotten an infection or a more serious illness:

  • Earache or drainage from the ear
  • Fever above 104 degrees, or one that lasts more than 6 days
  • Cold or cough that lasts more than 10 days
  • Bluish skin color
  • Wheezing, fast breathing, or trouble breathing
  • Can't drink enough fluids
  • Extremely irritable
  • Trouble being woken from sleep
  • Seizure
  • Flu-like symptoms that return with a fever and worsening cough
  • Nagging, wet cough that doesn't get better with other treatments

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 10, 2015

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