So many children (and their parents) have colds now. Really yucky colds, often accompanied by fever. Take heart that it’s not quite flu season- the yearly flu epidemic has not yet fully hit the United States. Are you staring at the medicine display in the pharmacy, wondering which of the many cold medicines on the shelf will best help your ill child? How we wish we had a terrific medication recommendation for how to treat a cold. Unfortunately, we do not. And antibiotics-as powerful as they can be at killing bacteria- do not cure colds, which are caused by viruses.
Watching your child suffer from a cold is tough. But why give something that doesn’t help her get better and has potential side effects?
Don’t despair, even if you can’t kill a cold virus, there are plenty of things you can do to make your child feel better:
- -If she has a sore throat, sore nose, headache, or body aches, consider giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat the discomfort.
- –Give honey for her cough and also to soothe her throat if she is over one year of age.
- -Run a cool mist humidifier in her bedroom, use saline nose spray or washes, have her take a soothing, steamy shower, and teach her how to blow her nose.
- -Break up that mucus by hydrating her well — give her a bit more than she normally drinks.
- -For infants, help them blow their noses by using a bulb suction. However, be careful, over-zealous suctioning can lead to a torn-up nose and an overlying bacterial infection. Use a bulb suction only a few times a day.
The safety and effectiveness of cough and cold medicine to treat a cold has never been fully demonstrated in children. In fact, in 2007 an advisory panel including American Academy of Pediatrics physicians, Poison Control representatives, and Baltimore Department of Public Health representatives recommended to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop use of cold and cough medications under six years of age.
Thousands of children under twelve years of age go to emergency rooms each year after over dosing on cough and cold medicines according to a 2008 study in Pediatrics . Having these medicines around the house increases the chances of accidental overdosing. Cold medications do not kill germs and will not help your child get better faster. Between 1985 and 2007, six studies showed cold medications didn’t have significant effect over placebo.
So you can ignore the shelf of children’s cough and cold medicine. Instead, buy saline nose drops or spray to help suffy noses, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), to treat discomfort, and fluids- and yes, milk is ok during a cold– to prevent dehydration.
Fortunately, when your kids have a cold, unlike you, they can take as many naps as they want.
Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD
© 2016, modified from 2015, Two Peds in a Pod®
updated from our 2011 post