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Close up of someone measuring cough medicine

Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Medicines to Kids

By Dr. Lynelle Slade-Byrd, Tidewater Children's Associates

It's always important to be careful when giving medicine to children, but this is especially true during cold and flu season when stores offer a variety of over-the-counter remedies.

Children 2 years of age and younger should never be given cough and cold medicines that contain a decongestant or antihistamine. Cough and cold medicines containing these ingredients may cause serious and possibly life-threatening side effects such as convulsions, rapid heart rates, and even death.

For children older than 2, keep in mind that many cough and cold medicines contain the fever-reducer acetaminophen, but parents often give a separate dose of acetaminophen without realizing it's already a part of the cold medicine's ingredients. This can lead to accidental overdose. Pay close attention to labels for a list of ingredients and dosing information.

Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines can also be harmful if they’re given too often or if more than the recommended amount is being used. Pediatricians strongly urge parents and caregivers to measure children's liquid medications in metric units, rather than by teaspoon or tablespoon. It's best to use the dropper, syringe, or dosing cup that comes with your child's medication. If one is not included, ask your doctor or pharmacist for one. Never use a kitchen spoon.

Ask your CHKD pediatrician to recommend over-the-counter products for cough, cold, and flu that are safe for children, and be sure to review dosing instructions with your pharmacist if you have questions.

Try the following alternative treatments for infants with cough and cold symptoms:

  • Use a cool mist humidifier. This helps shrink nasal passages, allowing an infant to breathe easier. Do not use a warm humidifier, as they have the opposite effect.
  • Use saline nose drops or spray to help keep baby’s nasal passages moist.
  • Suction your child’s nose with a bulb syringe. This works best with infants who are less than a year old. Older children may resist.
  • Make sure your baby is staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.

Call your pediatrician right away if:

  • Your child has a severe cough that is causing vomiting or if they’re having trouble breathing or swallowing.
  • Your child has a fever of 102°F or above.
  • Your infant (3 months of age or younger) has a fever of 100.4°F or above.
  • Your child’s symptoms last more than two weeks for a cold or four weeks for a cough.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.