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Should You Give Your Child OTC Medicine for a Cough or Cold?

January 12, 2021 • Our Blog • Illness
Cough and cold medicine can provide temporary relief from troublesome symptoms, but it’s not always safe for young children. With cold and flu season kicking into high gear — and with COVID-19 posing an ongoing threat — the members of your household are likely to experience some sneezing, sniffling, and coughing this winter. Though colds don’t typically cause serious complications in children, they can be very uncomfortable, and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can help soothe their symptoms. That said, OTC medicines aren’t always safe for young children. Many parents find it difficult to determine when they should or shouldn’t give their child over-the-counter cold medicine, and that confusion has only been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents of young children are now grappling not only with determining the safe and correct dosage of cold and flu medicine, but with determining whether their child has come down with an ordinary cold or flu or something more serious. Fortunately, there are some key rules of thumb parents can use to determine whether to give their child OTC medicine, and if so, how much and how often.

When OTC Cold and Flu Medicine Isn’t Safe

Some cold and flu medicines can have serious or even life-threatening side effects, especially if given in the wrong dosage. That’s why it’s vitally important that parents read dosage information, and that parents follow these key rules:
  • Don’t give OTC cough or cold medicine to children under the age of two.
  • Read the label on all OTC cough and cold products to ensure they don’t contain codeine. Codeine isn’t recommended for use in children under the age of 18.
Keep in mind that cough and cold medicine isn’t a cure for these illnesses, just a temporary source of relief from some of the symptoms. Safe alternatives such as warm tea, a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier, saline drops, or a low dose of acetaminophen can provide similar results without the risks presented by certain cough medicines.

When to See the Doctor

Not every cough or cold requires a trip to the doctor, and parents may be especially reluctant to visit a doctor’s office in light of COVID-19. However, medical intervention is sometimes necessary. Call a pediatrician immediately if your child exhibits any of these symptoms:
  • A fever in a child two months of age or younger
  • A fever of above 102 degrees in a child of any age
  • Labored breathing, wheezing, or ribs showing with each breath
  • Decreased urination and not eating or drinking
  • Blue lips
  • Illness for more than three weeks
  • Persistent ear pain

Does Your Child Have COVID-19?

Unfortunately, the symptoms of COVID-19 can often resemble those of the flu or the common cold. The most telling symptoms of COVID-19 are a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and loss of taste or smell, though the virus can also present as any combination of sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea, diarrhea, tiredness, chills, muscle aches, or headache. If you suspect that your child has COVID-19 — whether due to their symptoms or because you know they came into contact with someone with the virus — it’s vital that you take care to avoid spreading the infection. To the greatest extent possible, keep your child separate from other members of your family; consider wearing masks indoors, and clean surfaces in the house frequently. Fortunately, many children experience only mild symptoms of COVID-19, and they can be treated at home with natural remedies and child-safe cough and cold medicines. However, it’s wise to consult with your child’s pediatrician if COVID-19 is a possibility, though you should call before going into the office.

A Partner in Your Child’s Health

Whether you believe your child has COVID-19 or simply have questions about the safety of an OTC cold medicine, feel free to reach out to Kids’ Health. A family-centric, independently owned pediatric practice based in Beverly, Massachusetts, we’re dedicated to helping your child achieve their best possible health, and we’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. Contact us today!...