Children and cold medicines

Winter is often the time of year most associated with colds, viruses, the flu, and other contagious illnesses, and this season is no different, particularly with high rates of children and adults being diagnosed with the flu. However, it is important to know that when it comes to treating children with cold and/or flu symptoms, they are not “little adults” and frequently cannot utilize the same medications.

Every year there are many children who have to seek care from their doctor or even the emergency room because they have taken too much of a medicine to relieve cold symptoms. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that cold medicines not be used for children under 4 years of age, and not for children under 12 years of age if at all possible. The use of these medications, especially with children under age 2, can cause serious side effects, including rapid heart rate, seizures/convulsions, or respiratory distress.

What can I do for my sick child?

There are many homeopathic (non-medicinal) remedies that you can use to help your child.

  • Ensure your child drinks lots of fluids, particularly clear liquids like chicken broth, water, and juice, which can help loosen mucus and congestion. For infants/toddlers, encourage frequent breastfeeding/bottles (even if it is small amounts more frequently, which is common if your child is congested).
  • Use a humidifier/vaporizer to expose your child to cool, moist air (do not use a warm mist humidifier, as this can worsen your child’s symptoms and provide an environment where viruses and bacteria can grow) to help your child breathe easier.
  • Saline nasal spray/drops can help loosen nasal congestion and help your child breathe easier.
  • Using cold beverages, popsicles, or throat lozenge can help soothe a sore throat – remember not to use cough drops with young children as it can be a choking hazard.
  • Allow your child to rest – keep them home from school/daycare until they are feeling better.

What medicines can I safely use?

It’s important to know that a fever is often a sign that your child is fighting something, and if it is low grade (less than 101) it may not need treatment. Check with your child’s pediatrician regarding their recommendations for treatment of fever.  However, if needed, over the counter pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen can help with your infant/child’s discomfort if they have a fever, sore throat or headache. Make sure to purchase age/weight appropriate medication and follow dosing instructions.

If your child is 4 years of age or older, and you decide to use a cold medicine, you should:

  • Read the label carefully to see what ingredients are in the medicine,
  • Follow dosing instructions exactly – Give your child the minimum (lowest) recommended dose for their age/weight, and do not give your child more medicine until the timing recommended on the medicine.
  • Keep medicines out of reach of your child
  • Do not give your child more than 1 medicine that contains the same ingredients (i.e. two decongestants, two cough medicines, etc.)

When should my child go to the doctor?

Most viruses will resolve completely within 7-10 days, but if your child has the following symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention.

  • Persistent high fever, or is younger than 3 months with a fever
  • Trouble drinking/eating
  • Not urinating as frequently
  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent cough
  • Yellow/green discharge from eyes and/or nose
  • Ear/sinus pain

It’s important to try and prevent illness as much as possible, by keeping hands, household surfaces and toys clean; avoiding spreading germs by washing hands, coughing into your arm or a tissue; avoiding sharing cups and utensils; and avoiding contact with someone who is sick/recovering from an illness. You should always consult your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions about what medications may or may not be safe for your child.

Do you need further information or have questions about this article? Check out the Center for Disease Control’s website,; you can also contact the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at 1-877-530-1824 (toll free) or visit


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply