Help for a Child with a Cold
It starts with a sneeze and a runny nose. From your child's symptoms, you think you're
dealing with a cold. You want to help your child feel better. But over-the-counter
(OTC) cold and cough medicines may not be the answer. The American Academy of Pediatrics
strongly advises not using them for children younger than age 4. From age 4 to 6, these medicines should
only be used if your child's healthcare provider tells you to. Several studies show
that cold and cough products don't work in young children. They can have possibly
serious side effects.
A lot of products also have a mix of ingredients meant to treat more than one symptom.
These may include symptoms your child does not have. This also increases the risk
that your child may overdose on an ingredient if you are giving your child more than
Ask your child's healthcare provider what he or she advises for different symptoms.
Do this before your child gets a cold.
Here are some common cold symptoms and what ingredients to look for on labels if your
child's provider advises medicine.
Fever and pain
Typical colds don't cause more than a slight fever in kids. It's OK to let a slight
fever run its course if your child is taking liquids and acting well. In fact, fever
may help your child's natural immune system fight off the infection sooner. Only 2
fever or pain medicines are available for children: acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Others
are available by prescription. Both help aches and ease fevers. Some multi-ingredient
cold medicines contain one or the other of these ingredients. So read labels carefully
so you won't give extra medicine that may not be needed.
Never give aspirin to infants, children, or teens because of the risk for Reye syndrome.
This is a rare but possibly fatal disease that can cause liver and brain damage.
Call your child's healthcare provider right away if your child is younger than 3 months
old and has a fever over 100.4°F (38°C).
Stuffy nose and sneezing
If your child has a runny nose, use a bulb syringe to gently suction out the mucus.
Or have your child blow their nose. Antihistamines only work if the runny nose is
caused by allergies. Antihistamines don't work well for the common cold.
For a blocked nose, saltwater (saline) spray or drops may help. They dilute the mucus.
This makes it easier for the child to blow it out or for you to suction it out. There
are no medicines that can remove mucus from the nose. You can buy saline drops and
spray at the pharmacy. Or you can make your own by mixing ½ teaspoon of salt in 8
ounces of warm tap water. For babies, use the drops before feeding. Older babies and
children may use the drops or spray whenever their nose is blocked. Don't give your
child over-the-counter medicated nasal sprays without first talking with your healthcare
For babies younger than 1 year who are coughing, it's enough to keep them well hydrated
and comfortable. Ask your child's healthcare provider if your child should have extra
water or warm fluids. For children older than 1 year, honey may be more helpful than
any OTC cough medicine and is much safer. Give your child ½ to 1 teaspoon of honey as
needed. Don't give honey to babies younger than 1 year. They are at risk of getting
a disease called infantile botulism.
Children in daycare or school often spread colds to each other. Keep your child at
home if they have a cold or if many children in the class have colds.
Your child can help prevent colds by washing their hands often, by not touching their
nose or eyes, and by staying away from people with colds or upper respiratory infections.
Alcohol-based hand gels can help prevent spreading a cold or other viral infection.
Feeling better without medicine
There isn't enough scientific proof to back claims about vitamin C, echinacea, and
zinc for cold relief. But the following suggestions may make your child more comfortable:
Liquids. Give your child plenty of water or other liquids to drink.
Cough drops. Lemon and peppermint drops can help a scratchy throat. Cough drops should only be
given to older children who can handle hard candies without a risk of choking.
Bed rest. If your child seems tired, let him or her relax.
Steam. Steam treatment can be helpful. Use cool mist humidifiers at night. Warm humidifiers
are not advised because they can burn a child. Mold can grow in any humidifier. So
clean the equipment well between uses. Running a warm shower in the same room as your
child may also ease symptoms if you don't have a humidifier.