Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines can cause serious side effects in young children. Therefore, in October 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended OTC cough and cold medicines never be used in children under 4 years of age.
From age 4 to 6, OTC medicines should be used only if recommended by your child's doctor. After age 6, the medicines are safe to use, but follow the dosage instructions on the package.
Fortunately, you can easily treat coughs and colds in young children without these non-prescription medicines. Good home remedies are safe, inexpensive and as beneficial as OTC medicines. They are also found in nearly every home. See below to learn how you can treat your child's symptoms with simple but effective home remedies instead of medicines.
For a runny nose, just suction or blow it. When your child's nose runs, it's getting rid of viruses. Antihistamines (such as Benadryl®) do not help the average cold. However, they are useful and approved if the runny nose is due to nasal allergies (hay fever).
If your child has a blocked nose, use nasal washes according to the following instructions:
- Use saline nose sprays or drops to loosen the dried mucus, followed by blowing or suctioning the nose. If these items are not available, warm water will work fine.
- Place two or three drops in each nostril, one side at a time, and then suction or blow. Repeat nasal washes until the return is clear.
- Use nasal washes whenever your child can't breathe through his or her nose. For infants who are bottle- or breast-feeding, use nose drops before feedings.
- Saline nose drops and sprays are available in all pharmacies without a prescription. To make your own, add 1/2 teaspoon of table salt to one cup of warm tap water.
- For sticky, stubborn mucus, remove with a wet cotton swab.
- No medicine can remove dried mucus or pus from the nose.
For children who are coughing, use homemade cough medicines.
- For children 3 months to 1 year of age, give warm, clear fluids (such as water or apple juice). Give one to three teaspoons four times per day when coughing. Avoid honey because it can cause infantile botulism. If a baby is younger than 3 months, see your child's doctor.
- Children 1 year and older can use 1/2 to one teaspoon of honey or corn syrup as needed. Honey will help thin the secretions and loosen the cough. Research has shown honey is better than drugstore cough syrups at reducing the frequency and severity of nighttime coughing.
- For kids 6 years and older, use cough drops to coat the irritated throat. You can also use hard candy if cough drops aren't available.
Help your child drink plenty of fluids. Staying well hydrated thins the body's secretions, making it easier to cough and blow the nose.
If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier. Moist air keeps nasal mucus from drying up and lubricates the airway. Make sure you know what kind of humidifier you have and how to use it safely.
Treatment is not always needed
Many children with a cough or nasal congestion are happy, play normally and sleep peacefully. Only treat symptoms if they cause discomfort, interrupt sleep or really bother your child (such as a hacking cough).