Skip to Content

Use caution when fighting coughs and colds

Published on February 15, 2018

Use caution when fighting coughs and colds

Denise Lenarz, MD, Pediatrician
CentraCare Clinic - Health Plaza Pediatrics

Cough and coldsOne of the most common questions I hear is “Is it OK to give my child cough and cold medicine?” The short answer is no.

Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines are intended to treat the symptoms of coughs and colds — not the virus that is causing the symptoms. OTC cough and cold products may contain a decongestant, antihistamine or pain relievers, which can cause serious side effects including fatal overdoses in young children.

Avoid antibiotics

If your child has a cold, antibiotics won’t help. Antibiotics fight bacterial infections but do not work on viruses such as colds. Overusing antibiotics increases the chances of getting an antibiotic-resistant infection in the future.

Treat a cold

An over-the-counter pain reliever — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) — can reduce a fever and ease the pain of a sore throat. These will help keep your child comfortable.

Follow the dosing guidelines carefully. For children younger than 3-months-old, do NOT give acetaminophen until your baby has been seen by a doctor. Do NOT give ibuprofen to a child younger than 6 months old or to children who are vomiting constantly or are dehydrated. Also, products containing Aspirin should only be given when directed by your child's provider.

Comfort measures

  • Liquids such as water, juice and broth. Warm liquids, such as tea or chicken soup, might help loosen respiratory secretions.
  • Run a cool-mist humidifier.
  • Use a suction bulb for a baby or young child to draw mucus out of the nose.
  • Over-the-counter saline can keep nasal passage moist. For younger children, use saline nasal drops. For older children, use a saline nasal spray or saline nasal irrigation.
  • Ice cream, frozen fruit pops, ice or cold beverages might feel good on a sore throat.
  • For children age 6 years and older, gargling salt water might soothe throat pain.
  • Do NOT give hard candy or medicated lozenges to young children.

Prevent colds

  • Teach your child to wash his or her hands often and thoroughly (long enough to sing the ABCs twice). Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or hand wipes if soap and water are not available. Disinfect toys and household surfaces.
  • Teach your child to cough or sneeze into the crook of the arm. Even better — use a tissue and throw it away.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a cold.

Health information accessed through is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We strive to present reliable, up-to-date health information on our web site and “For the Health of It” blog. However, this information is not intended for the purpose of diagnosing or prescribing. Please contact your health care provider if you have any concerns or questions about specific content that may affect your health. Log in to MyChart to send a secure message to your provider.

About the Author

Denise Lenarz, MD

Denise Lenarz, MD
CentraCare Clinic - Health Plaza Pediatrics
Learn more about Dr. Lenarz

Also by this Author

Share This Post

For the Health of It