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.