Should you use cold medicine for your child’s cold?

When your child has a cold, it’s only natural to try to alleviate their suffering. But what is the best way to help them? James C. Anderson, IV, MDPediatrics at ARC Far West gives an overview of types of cold medications for children, their efficacy and their safety, and also covers helpful home remedies in this recent interview with

While cold medications might provide a bit of relief, Dr. Anderson cautions parents against treating their child’s cold with medicine.

“There is not much evidence that cold medications work better than using at-home methods,” says Dr. Anderson. “In addition, your child may experience negative side effects from cold medications,” he adds, noting the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against their use in children under 4 years old. Meanwhile, the organization advises that children between the ages of 4 and 6 should only be given over-the-counter cold or cough medicine at the discretion of their doctor.

Types of cold medicine for kids

There are four types of medications used to treat the symptoms of colds in children, says Dr. Anderson. These medication types include the following:

  • Decongestants: This type of medication is used to treat a child’s congestion, or stuffy nose. The active ingredient in most decongestants is either phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine.
  • Antihistamines: These medications help relieve symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, congestion and itchy eyes.
  • Cough suppressants: These medications can help suppress a cough by gently blocking your cough reflex. The most commonly available cough suppressant for kids is dextromethorphan.
  • Fever reducers and pain relievers: There are two types of medications that help reduce fevers and ease pain: acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Because acetaminophen and NSAIDs may also be included in many medications used to treat sinus pressure and the common cold, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers to read labels carefully to avoid ingesting more than the recommended dose.

Is it safe to give my child cold medicine?

Medications to reduce fever, pain, and discomfort like acetaminophen (Tylenol) are safe and effective for infants and children over 2 months of age, says Dr. Anderson, adding that ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) is safe and effective for kids ages 6 months and older. However, you should never give a child aspirin.

When it comes to giving cold medicine to kids, Dr. Anderson issues a warning, citing the AAP’s recommendation to avoid cold medicines in younger populations. In fact, the AAP has the following guidelines on cold medications for children:

  • Under 4 years old: cold medicine should not be used in children under 4 years old.
  • Ages 4 to 6: consult your pediatrician before administering cold medicine.
  • Ages 6 and over: cold medicine may be given with strict adherence to the dosage instructions provided on the packaging.

Other cautions:

  • Dosage: Cold medicines are potentially dangerous to children if they are given the incorrect dosage for their weight, are given more than the recommended maximum doses per day or are given the same active ingredient in multiple medications.
  • Ingredients should be age appropriate: The FDA does not recommend OTC cough or cold medication in children younger than 2 years old, and states that prescription cough medicines containing codeine or hydrocodone are not intended for children under the age of 18.

Alternatives to cold medicines

“Often, natural, at-home methods may work better than a cold medication without carrying the potential for serious side effects,” says Dr. Anderson. To help alleviate your child’s cold symptoms, try the following:

  • Steam: Run a hot shower to fill your bathroom with steam for your child to sit in for several minutes. This will moisten the nasal congestion.
  • Drops and suction: Try a combination of saline nasal drops and suctioning with a device like the noseFrida or a nasal aspirator, common in most pharmacies.
  • Hydrate: Administer plenty of fluids throughout the day to alleviate mucus and improve breathing.
  • Elevate: Try elevating your child’s upper body while they sleep to keep mucus from collecting in their nose and throat.

Book and appointment with Dr. Anderson today

If you would like to make an appointment with Dr. Anderson, call ARC Far West at 512-346-6611, or book online.

Tags: cold medicine