Many parents have stood in the cold medicine aisle at the drug store and stared for hours at the hundreds of different options. Choosing between cough suppressants, expectorants, antihistamines, and decongestants, or any possible combination of these, can be confusing. Here is a guideline for treating your child’s symptoms.
- Only use medication when the symptoms are interfering with your child’s daily life or keeping them, or you, awake at night. It’s okay to let your child cough several times an hour during the day. It is better for her to cough up the mucus so it doesn’t sit in her lungs. It is also better to tolerate a runny nose or some nasal congestion during the day if it isn’t bothering your child.
- Treat your child’s specific symptoms. If your child simply has a bad cough, but no nasal congestion, then you don’t need a fancy combination cough and cold medicine. You simply need a cough suppressant. Here are the four major types of cold medicine:
1. Nasal decongestant. This acts by decreasing mucus production and shrinking the swelling in the nose, thus clearing up the nose to allow breathing. It helps mostly with stuffy noses. The most likely side effect is it may wire your child a bit and interfere with sleep.
2. Anti-histamine. This type of medication decreases mucus production in the nose if it is caused by an allergy and not a cold. It helps mostly with drying up a very runny nose. The most likely side effect is drowsiness, which is fine at night, but may interfere during the day.
3. Cough suppressant. This acts by suppressing the cough reflex in the throat and lungs so that the mucus or irritation there won’t trigger coughing. There are no likely side effects. One particularly good brand is Delsym. It tastes great and lasts 12 hours. Yet, it’s often best to allow your child to clear his lungs by coughing during the day, yet give a cough suppressant before bedtime.
4. Expectorant. This acts by loosening thick mucus, thus making it easier to cough up. It helps when your child seems to have thick chest congestion that he is unable to cough up. There are no likely side effects.
Cough and cold medications come either as one of the above medicines, or a combination of two, three, or all four medications.
- Choosing the right medication. The name brand of the medication is not important. Underneath the brand name will be written one or more of the above four types of medication. That is how you know what it is for. It is okay to use more than one medicine at the same time, just as long as you are not overlapping any of the above four types of medications. Realize that most only last 4 to 6 hours, so you may need to repeat it during the night.
- Prescriptions. For severe coughs your doctor can prescribe a cough suppressant with codeine.
- See Medicine Cabinet for a listing of cough and cold medications.
Warning: All four types of cough and cold medications are NO LONGER APPROVED for kids younger than 4 years of age.
All bottles of cold and cough meds that have dosing labels for kids under 2 have been taken off the shelves and are no longer available. Manufacturers have also just declared that these meds should not be used in children under 4 years of age as well. The reason for this is two-fold: First, there have been a number of infants and young children harmed by accidental overdoses of these meds when a parent mixed different meds together OR gave too high a dose, this is the reason that the FDA decided to step in and make them no longer available. Second, there has been very little research done on young kids to prove that cold and cough meds are safe and/or effective. Even though they seem to work well and rarely cause any problems when dosed properly, the FDA felt it was prudent to put a hold on their use until further safety and efficacy data become available, and we agree.
In addition, the FDA is considering removing cough and cold meds for kids as old as 12, due to the lack of safety and efficacy research in these age groups. The decision for older kids may not come until 2009.
What can parents do in the meantime when their young kids catch a cold or flu?
We suggest you try a natural alternative called SINUPRET. This plant-based pharmaceutical grade natural remedy has been used in Europe for decades as the number one doctor recommended natural remedy for sinus and respiratory support, and it is now available in the U.S. Not only does it promote healthy airflow and drainage of mucus in the sinus and respiratory tracts, it also supports the immune system. Sinupret comes as a liquid or capsules. For more information visit www.bionoricausa.com/.