The American Academy of Pediatrics and FDA both strongly recommend that over the counter cough and cold medications not be given to infants and children younger than 2 because of the risk of life-threatening side effects. Between age 2 and 6, the AAP also cautions parents when using such medications because they have not been shown to be effective and may have unpleasant or even dangerous side effects.
For older children or if you do choose to use medication in younger children, please follow these tips to avoid accidental overdose:
Ways to prevent accidental overdose:
- Know your medication, ingredient and what it treats
- Give appropriate dose with measuring device that came with specific med
- When it doubt, call your pediatrician for dosing advice
- Keep a log of medication taken. Especially useful if more than one caregiver to make sure a medication or ingredient in a medication isn’t repeated too soon.
- Always keep medications up high away from a child’s reach. Accidental overdoses are more common when somebody in the home is sick and a medication was left out for convenience.
- Post the Poison control number 1-800-222-1222 on fridge and program in your cell phone.
If you do find yourself roaming the drug store aisle, here is a list of common OTC cold medications ingredients.
Great for fever, pain including sore throat, sinus pressure, headache, aches and pains in general.
My go to fever and pain medication for all ages. Acetaminophen is very safe as long as dosed appropriately.
Parent should note that concentration of liquid acetaminophen has changed to decrease confusion and accidental overdose. Previously there were two concentrations available (infants 80mg/0.8ml and children’s (160mg/5ml)). Now there is one single concentration (180mg/5ml) labeled for both infants with a syringe and children (160mg/5ml) with a measuring cup. Follow the dosing instructions on the package according to your child’s weight and if you have questions, call your pediatrician.
Don’t forget that not all fevers need to be treated, but if the fever is making your child uncomfortable, go ahead and give an appropriate dose.
Ibuprofen is another appropriate option for fever and pain for children 6 months of age and older. Many parents like to use it at night because it lasts 6 to 8 hours—longer than other OTC fever reducers. Then cross your fingers and hope for a few more hours of comfortable sleep.
Antihistamines are used for allergies. They can also often help dry up a runny nose and sometimes help cough if cough is from runny nose or postnasal drip.
Be aware that some antihistamines, such as diphenylhydramine (aka Benadryl) can make you sleepy (or rarely hyper, so be careful when using in children). Non drowsy versions such as Loratadine (aka Claritin) are available and good options for daytime. If you have an infant, always talk to your pediatrician first.
Also known as DM, it is the most widely used non-prescription cough suppressant and may be useful in relieving cough. I rarely use in children unless the cough is keeping them up at night, or for myself if I can’t talk without coughing.
Guaifenesin is an ingredient in many multi-symptom cough and cold medications, and it’s main job is to break up mucus.
This is a decongestant, which means it shrinks nasal tissue which helps with blocked nasal passages and sinus pressure. Be careful though as it may amp you up or keep you awake at night. It is often combined with antihistamines to help with allergy symptoms.
Many cough and cold medications treat many symptoms and may have several of these ingredients.
It’s very important to know what the ingredients are in the medication you are taking or giving to your children to make sure you don’t overdose on any specific ingredient.
It’s often best to avoid medication entirely. Some of these home remedies have even been shown to be as effective, if not more effective than medication.
Cool mist humidifier or vaporizer in your child’s room can help moisten the air and may help clear congestion. Clean often.
Nasal saline rinses – are the best non medicine way to flush out the mucus. Use them twice a day when sick. For babies, place a few drops into each nostril and gently suction.
For children over age 1, honey can help to relieve a cough.
Chicken soup and other warm or hot fluids really do help thin mucus and relive symptoms.
Throat lozenges can be soothing for older children. Don’t use under age 4 for risk of choking.
Prevention is ALWAYS best:
Get a flu vaccine
Cover coughs and sneezes, use tissue and throw away
Stay home when sick and until fever free for 24 hours
REMEMBER that cold and flu are caused by viruses and although symptoms may be uncomfortable and annoying, they are rarely dangerous and will go away on their own with time.