Got a kid with a cold? Be careful with medicine

Dec. 3, 2014—When kids catch colds, parents are often anxious to ease their pain, but how you treat a child’s cold is nothing to sneeze at. Before you decide how to treat your little one’s symptoms, take note of a warning recently emphasized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicines are not safe for children younger than 4 years.

Sweeping danger off the shelf

In 2008, drug companies stopped making OTC cold and cough medicines for babies and children younger than 2 years old. They did it because these medicines have harmed many young children. Often, kids got sick because they received too much of the medicine or took it when parents weren’t looking. Some children died.

OTC cough and cold medicines are still available for older children and adults. But now their labels warn caregivers not to give them to children under 4 years old.

Common cold symptoms can make kids miserable for the 7 to 10 days it takes most cold viruses to run their course. And the truth is, nothing—especially not antibiotics—can cure colds, and OTC medicines don’t make them go away any faster. But you can help your kids feel better by following these tips from FDA and the National Institutes of Health:

  • Encourage an ill child to rest.
  • Give sick kids plenty of fluids. Warm liquids can help soothe throats.
  • Try saline nose drops or spray. They help clear noses and avoid stuffiness.
  • For infants and kids under 1 year, use a bulb syringe with saline drops to remove mucus.
  • Set up a cool mist humidifier. It can help kids breathe easier. (Warm mist humidifiers don’t help—they can make stuffy noses worse.)
  • For aches and fever, give acetaminophen or ibuprofen exactly as directed.

Most kids’ colds don’t require professional medical care. But let your doctor know whenever a baby 3 months or younger shows signs of illness.

And these symptoms do warrant a call to the doctor:

  • Any fever above 99 degrees in a baby 3 months or younger
  • A fever of 102 degrees or higher at any age
  • Labored breathing, such as wheezing or fast breathing
  • Blue lips
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Ear pain
  • A cough that lasts more than 3 weeks

Also call the doctor if your child is getting worse instead of better.

And of course, no matter your child’s age, don’t hesitate to call for advice about any worrisome symptoms.

Give colds the cold shoulder

To help kids dodge some of this season’s cold viruses, encourage them to:

  • Wash their hands often. Scrub for 20 seconds in warm, soapy water
  • Avoid touching their eyes, mouth or nose with unwashed hands
  • Steer clear of people who are sick


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