Posted: Apr 15, 2012 4:44 PM
When your child is battling a cold, it’s tempting to reach for the nearest OTC cough suppressant or decongestant. However, OTC medicines are not without risk and there’s plenty you can do for your child without reaching into the medicine cabinet.

When your child is congested and coughing through the night, it's natural to want a medicine that will take care of it. We all have that desire of wanting and needing to do something for our sick child.

However, when it comes to OTC cough and cold medicines for children, it's best to take the hands off the medicine approach -- and here's why.

Why not OTC medications?

In 2008, the FDA advised parents not to use OTC cough and cold medicines for children under 6 years of age. There is lack of proven efficacy -- the side effects in children are much more common and safe doses have not been reliably studied. Resist the temptation to give your sniffling, coughing child a cough suppressant or decongestant.

What can parents do?

Keep your child well hydrated. Coughs and fevers cause little ones to lose excess fluids. Stay on top of their hydration by offering small and frequent amounts of clear liquids. This will also help to thin out that phlegm.

Use saline nose drops and a bulb suction. This is particularly helpful for infants and toddlers unable to blow their noses. Use before feeding and sleeping so they can breathe easier.

Keep a cool mist humidifier on hand. This is a great way to add moisture back to the indoor air, gently lubricating little noses and airways -- which will also decrease nighttime coughing and congestion.

Give your honey some honey. In children over the age of 1 (due to risk of botulism), offer a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of honey to loosen phlegm and decrease coughing. Mixed with warm water, it will even soothe dry and irritated throats.

What about acetaminophen or ibuprofen?

Be judicious here too and resist the temptation to treat at the first sign of fever. If your child is tolerating a slight bump in temperature, let her body do its job. When it starts climbing to 102 degrees F or above and she’s feeling lousy, then by all means give her acetaminophen or ibuprofen to make her feel better.

Acetaminophen vs. Ibuprofen

In November 2011, the Journal of Pediatrics published findings from several studies linking acetaminophen use to an increase in incidence and risk of asthma. So, if your child has asthma or there is a strong family history of asthma, limit use of acetaminophen if you can.

Dr. Mom’s bottom line: Do your best to think outside of the medicine cabinet when it comes to relieving your child’s symptoms of a mild cold.

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