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Cough and Cold in Children: Dr. Andrea Jones

Cough and Cold in Children

If a child you care about is sick, there is no doubt you want him or her to feel better right away. Most colds in children do not cause serious complications, but they can cause significant worry for the caregiver. The common cold is caused by a virus, for which there is no “cure” available. Antibiotics only work on bacteria and cannot be used to treat viral infections. As adults, we often treat our cough and cold symptoms with over the counter (OTC) medications, so it is easy to want the same for your child. However, it is important to know many adult cough and cold medicines are not safe to use in children and may cause serious side effects that could be life threatening (especially for babies and young children). Fortunately, most children are likely to get better on their own, without medication, after one to two weeks of a cold. Older children can try over the counter medications to relieve some of symptoms, but the medicines will not change the natural course of the cold, or make it disappear faster. Always read the labels of medicines before using them.

Several non-drug remedies are described below to help ease the child’s symptoms, and your worries, when he or she is sick.

These remedies can help sick adults, too! Cough, fever, stuffy nose, aches, and pains are some symptoms that may be associated with the cold. See the table below for recommendations according to the symptoms.

Symptom Notes and Recommendations1,2,3
General cough and cold ·       Non-prescription cough and cold medicines are not recommended in children younger than 6 years old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

·       Assure the child has plenty of rest and fluids, electrolyte solutions (ex. Pedialyte, Gatorade) also may help

·       Be aware of when to seek medical attention (see below).

Cough ·       Drinking warm drinks to soothe the throat and consuming plenty of fluids can help with cough and prevent dehydration.

·       For children 1 year or older, add honey to warm drinks, or use honey cough syrup (without added medicines) to help soothe the throat and cough.

·       Some prescription cough medicines may contain the opioid codeine or hydrocodone. Opioid-containing cough medicines should not be used in anyone under the age of 18.

Fever ·       Fevers are our body’s way of fighting off an infection. If the child is not bothered by a fever, there is no need to treat it with medicine.

·        Maintain a comfortable room temperature and dress the child in lightweight clothing to help with fever.

·       If the child is uncomfortable, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used for children over 2 years. It is important to carefully read dosing instructions, or ask your pharmacist or doctor, about a safe dose. For children younger than 2 years old, ask a doctor.

·       Aspirin should not be used in children younger than 15 years.

Stuffy or dry nose ·       Use a clean cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier near the child’s bed to help moisten the air.

·       Saline or saltwater drops/spray to moisten nasal passages and loosen mucus in infants. Be sure to clean the nose with a bulb syringe or other suction tool designed for infants after.




Be aware of symptoms that can signal your child may have something more serious than a cold.

For all children, the federal drug administration (FDA) recommends you call a doctor if you see any of these symptoms:

  • A fever in an infant 2 months or younger
  • A fever of 102 degrees or higher at any age
  • Blue lips
  • Labored breathing, including nostrils widening with each breath, wheezing, fast breathing, the ribs showing with each breath or shortness of breath
  • Not eating or drinking, with signs of dehydration (such as decreased urination)
  • Excessive crankiness or sleepiness
  • Persistent ear pain
  • If the cough lasts for more than three weeks
  • If the child is getting worse



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Dr. Andrea M. Jones

Dr. Andrea M. Jones is a clinical pharmacist specializing in transitions of care to facilitate a smooth transition for patients between the hospital and outpatient settings. Dr. Jones graduated from the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy and completed post-graduate year 1 residency at the Southern Arizona VA Healthcare System in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Jones also worked in retail/community pharmacies for over 5 years during undergraduate studies at the University of Kentucky and pharmacy school at the University of Colorado.




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