It’s cold and flu season, which means misery for kids and the parents trying to help them. But doctors are asking parents to resist the urge to give children under the age of 6 over-the-counter cough and cold medication.
Such drugs can have serious side effects on the smallest of children, the Food and Drug Administration warns. Side effects include hives, drowsiness, difficulty breathing and even death.
“Some 7,000 children end up in the emergency room each year because of problems associated with these medicines,” says Esther Yoon, M.D., general pediatrician in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the University of Michigan Health System.
Roughly two-thirds of incidents occurred after children drank medication while unsupervised, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most problems have occurred as a result of dosing errors.
To ease pain from a harsh cough or throat pain, doctors recommend using over-the-counter acetaminophen and ibuprofen in age-appropriate doses, Yoon says.
To relieve symptoms, doctors recommend the following:
- For blocked noses, parents should use nasal saline drops and a bulb suction to loosen up and remove mucus or have the child blow their nose.
- For coughs, the child should be given a teaspoon of honey or corn syrup if over the age of 1. Have the child drink warm fluids like water, apple juice and chicken broth to help with coughing.
- Take the child into the bathroom and run a hot shower. The steam relaxes the airways and helps with coughing spasms.
- Increase the humidity in the home to help reduce nasal congestion and coughing.
Parents can help prevent colds by washing hands frequently, using instant hand sanitizers, teaching children to cover their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze, and making sure children are well hydrated, have good nutrition and are getting enough sleep.
“Other good tips include disinfecting the home, kitchen countertops, door knobs and toys,” Yoon says. “Children should get plenty of vitamin C and E to help fight germs and a multivitamin is also helpful.”
Cold symptoms caused by a virus typically last between four and five days. But if they continue for more than five days, Yoon recommends taking the child to a doctor.
If a child is having difficulty breathing or is wheezing, he or she should be seen right away. Infants younger than 3 months old with a fever should also be seen right away.
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