Over-the-Counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines can cause side effects. These side effects can be serious in young children. The risks of using these medicines outweigh any benefits. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looked at this issue in children. They recommended these medicines never be used in young children. After age 6, the medicines are safe to use, if you follow the package instructions. But, it's easy to treat coughs and colds without these medicines.
A good home remedy is safe, cheap, and as helpful as OTC medicines. They are also found in nearly every home. Here are some simple but helpful home treatments.
1. Runny Nose: Just suction it or blow it. When your child’s nose runs like a faucet, it’s getting rid of viruses. Allergy medicines (such as Benadryl) do not help the average cold. They are useful and approved if your child has nasal allergies (hay fever).
2. Blocked Nose: Use nasal washes.
- Use saline nose spray or drops to loosen up the dried mucus. Next blow or suction the nose. If you don't have saline, warm water will work fine.
- Put 2-3 drops in each nostril. Do one side at a time. Then suction or blow. Teens can just splash warm water into the nose. Repeat nasal washes until the return is clear.
- How Often. Do nasal washes when your child can't breathe through the nose. For babies on a bottle or breast, use nose drops before feeds. Limit: No more than 4 times per day.
- You can buy saline nose drops and sprays in any drug store. To make your own, use 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt. Stir the salt into 1 cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of warm tap water.
- Sticky mucus. Remove it with a wet cotton swab.
- Medicines. There are no drugs that can remove dried mucus from the nose.
3. Coughing: Use homemade cough medicines.
- AGE 3 months to 1 year. Give warm clear fluids (such as apple juice or lemonade). Dose: 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml) four times per day when coughing. Under 3 months, see your child’s doctor. Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old.
- AGE 1 year and older. Use HONEY 1/2 to 1 tsp (2 to 5 ml) as needed. It thins the secretions and loosens the cough. If you don't have honey, you can use corn syrup. Research shows that honey works better than cough syrups to reduce nighttime coughing.
- AGE 6 years and older. Use COUGH DROPS to coat the irritated throat. If you don't have any, you can use hard candy.
- Coughing fits. The warm mist from a shower can help.
4. Fluids: Help your child drink lots of fluids. Staying well hydrated thins the body’s secretions. That makes it easier to cough and blow the nose.
5. Humidity: If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier. Moist air keeps the nose and airway from drying out. Run a warm shower for a while to help put moisture in the air.
Treatment is Not Always Needed:
- If symptoms aren’t bothering your child, they don’t need medicine or any treatment. Many children with a cough or cold are happy, play fine and sleep well.
- Only treat symptoms if they cause discomfort or wake your child up. Treat a cough if it's hacking and really bothers your child.
- Fevers are helpful. Only treat them if they slow your child down or cause some discomfort. That does not occur until 102° F (39° C) or higher. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) can be given. Use to treat higher fever or pain. (See Dose tables)
Summary. If coughs or colds need treatment, home remedies may work better than medicines.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt
Content Set: Child Symptom Checker
Child Symptom Checker