Cough and cold medicines for kids under the age of 2 have been pulled from drugstore shelves, and experts continue to debate whether the medicines should be given to children younger than 6 or 11 years old. But your son or daughter has a cold now you don't have time to wait for pediatricians and government officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reach a consensus. What should you do?


Risks vs. Rewards

First, keep in mind that cold medicines do not cure colds but merely relieve some of the symptoms associated with them, such as runny nose, sore throat, and cough. A cold is a virus that must run its course, which may last for up to two weeks.

Many experts now believe that the risks in medicating children may be greater than the benefits. Numerous studies have found that these drugs have no scientific health effect on children. If parents notice their child getting healthier after taking medicine, it is more than likely because colds get better over time.

Antihistamines are sedating and can be dangerous to young children who already have breathing problems, and pseudoephedrine (a common decongestant) could be hazardous to children with heart conditions, which may be present, if not diagnosed.

Side effects in cold and flu medications are normal, but they can be particularly serious in children. After reviewing side effect reports from the last 40 years, the FDA found 54 child fatalities from over-the-counter decongestants, and 69 deaths connected with antihistamines. Pediatricians point out that it is easy for an infant to take an overdose of medicine. For example, a mother could give the child medicine without telling the father, and the father may also treat the child with the same medicine.

Home Remedies

Since cold medicines only eliminate symptoms, you might want to try some other remedies that offer temporary relief. It's always best to consult with your pediatrician when concerned for your child's health, but most doctors advise that the best way to treat and care for a cold is to drink plenty of fluids and rest.

In addition, you may want to try these suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics.


  • Vaporizers. These machines help moisten the air and open your child's stuffy airways. If you're worried about your child getting burned if the hot water spills, you can buy a cool mist humidifier.
  • Nose drops. Saline drops without medication added can help thin mucus.
  • Nose bulbs. These work best with infants under 6 months old. Because babies can't blow their own noses yet, the bulb works to clear out mucus.
  • Liquids. Juice, sports drinks, tea, or other clear liquids will help prevent dehydration. Milk and formula are not recommended.
  • Soup. This tried and true remedy works to ease cold and flu symptoms by acting similarly to over-the-counter medicines, according to a professor at the UCLA School of Medicine.
  • Sweet treats. Popsicles, honey, and lollipops can all help temporarily soothe a child's sore throat. These are best for children at least a year old.