Cold medicines for kids: What's the risk?
Cough and cold medicines can pose serious risks for young children. Know the facts and understand treatment alternatives.By Mayo Clinic Staff
Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are the best way to help a child who has a cold feel better — right? Think again. Here's practical advice from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D., an emeritus pediatrics specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.
What's the concern about cough and cold medicines for kids?
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines don't effectively treat the underlying cause of a child's cold, and won't cure a child's cold or make it go away any sooner. These medications also have potentially serious side effects, including rapid heart rate and convulsions. As a result, over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should be avoided in children younger than age 6 years.
What about antibiotics?
Antibiotics can be used to combat bacterial infections but have no effect on viruses, which cause colds. If your child has a cold, antibiotics won't help. It's also important to remember that the more your child uses antibiotics, the more likely he or she is to get sick with an antibiotic-resistant infection in the future.
Can any medications help treat the common cold?
An over-the-counter pain reliever — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) — can reduce a fever and ease the pain of a sore throat or headache. Remember, though, low-grade fevers help fight infection and don't necessarily need treatment.
If you give your child a pain reliever, follow the dosing guidelines carefully. Don't give ibuprofen to a child younger than age 6 months, and don't give aspirin to anyone age 18 years or younger. Aspirin has been associated with Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal illness.
If you want to give your child an herbal or alternative remedy, consult your child's doctor first.
May 03, 2017
See more In-depth
- McInerny TK, et al. Textbook of Pediatric Care. Elk Grove Village, Ill.: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2009:1934.
- Pappas DE, et al. The common cold in children: Management and prevention. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 3, 2017.
- Giving medication to children. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm164427.htm. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- Using over-the-counter cough and cold products in children. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm048524.pdf. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- Stopping germs at home, work and school. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/stopgerms.htm. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- Drutz JE. Sore throat in children and adolescents: Symptomatic treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- CDC says "Take 3" actions to fight the flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm. Accessed Sept. 10, 2014.
- Fever and your child. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://patiented.aap.org/content.aspx?aid=5107. Accessed Sept. 11, 2014.
- Sullivan JE, et al. Fever and antipyretic use in children. Pediatrics. 2011;127:580.
- Tobias JD, et al. Codeine: Time to say “no”. Pediatrics. 2016:138;1.
- Codeine cough-and-cold medicines in children: Drug safety communication - FDA evaluating potential risk of serious side effects. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm453379.htm. Accessed Dec. 9, 2016.
- Codeine and tramadol medicines: Drug safety communication – restricting use in children, recommending against use in breastfeeding women. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm554029.htm. Accessed April 21, 2017.