Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cough and cold medicines in young children

Often I see parents who have a kid who's been coughing and has a runny nose for day and days. They ask what they can do to help their kid feel better. A lot of parents feel helpless because their child is coughing all night long and want to do something so everyone can go back to sleep.

So they go to their local store and they find whatever cold medicine they can find that says they will make their child feel better. They are often confused about what to give and how much to give and end up giving too much.

The over the counter medication aisle is overwhelming, especially if you don't know what you're looking for.

The FDA has issued an advisory recommending against the use of cough and cold medicine in children under 4 years old. Here is a link to to this advisory.

The issue with these medications is that they are confusing. Most of them have multiple ingredients in them and if you use more than one different medication there is risk of overdose because they often have the same ingredients. There is also no evidence that these medications actually work. Young children can have side effects and there have even been deaths related to overdose.

Cold medicines will not cure the common cold. The only thing that will cure a cold is time. Kids with colds need rest, fluids and tylenol or motrin for pain or fever. Most colds last about 7-10 days.

The only exception I make to my recommendation is cough suppressants at night. If your child is coughing all night long I think it's ok to give a cough suppressant even though there is not a lot of evidence that they actually work. The one I recommend is Delsym, which has an active ingredient of dextromethorphan.
If your child is still ill after 7-10 days or develops a fever after several days of illness then it is important to take them to a health care provider to be examined.

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  1. Thanks, Laura, I've had questions about this topic. This is very helpful.

    Erin Martineau

  2. Laura,
    I am so bad about following and not commenting as often as I should. I enjoy your blog! (and I will tell you so more often!)
    My son will be 3 next month, he is a BIG 3 yr old (talkin 38 lbs!) So I usually dose his meds at his weight vs his age.
    And for coughs, especially at night, we coat his little chest, back, and feet with the Vicks vapor rub, and have a cool mist humidifier in his bedroom. Its the only thing that seems to help.
    I have some allergy questions that I am heading over to another post to comment to... :) Thanks!

  3. You're welcome. Thanks for reading. :)

    You should always dose by weight. I've also heard Vicks vapor rub on the feet works well.