Cough and Cold Remedies for Children Under 2

Questions have been raised about the safety of cough and cold medication use in children and whether the benefits justify any potential risks from the use of these products, especially in children under 2 years of age.

What are parents of sick infants and toddlers to do? Here are some recommendations from Amy Guiot, MD, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

  • Cool mist humidifier: It makes nasal passages shrink to allow easier breathing. Cool mist humidifiers are recommended over warm mist humidifiers, which may cause nasal passages to swell, making it more difficult to breathe.
  • Saline nose drops or spray: These keep nasal passages moist and "running," rather than stuffy.
  • Nasal suctioning: Using a bulb syringe to suction nasal passages, either with or without salt water nose drops, works well for infants less than a year old. Older children often don't like the nasal syringe and will fight its use. Call the doctor right away for any fever in infants less than 2 months.
    • Acetaminophen can be used to reduce fever, aches and pains in children older than 2 months. Parents should read the packing carefully and prescribed dosing.
    • Ibuprofen can be used to reduce fever, aches and pains in children older than 6 months. Parents should read the packing carefully and prescribed dosing.
  • Drink plenty of liquids to stay well hydrated.
  • Nasal sprays containing oxymetazoline, such as Afrin, are not intended for children under 6 years old.

Very young children should not take most over-the-counter cough and cold medicines because they are ineffective and, if too much is taken, can cause serious side effects, according to Guiot, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Erratic behavior
  • Constipation

What parents can give their kids is "lots of loving and being held," she says. 


Last Updated 12/2013