Choosing the Right Cough and Cold Medication for Your Child

Jan 1, 2024

When your little one is feeling under the weather, finding the proper medication can make a significant difference in their comfort and recovery. However, selecting the appropriate cough and cold medicines for your child involves more than just grabbing a random bottle off the shelf. How can you know what to choose? Here’s a guide to help you navigate the process and make informed decisions for your child’s health.

First, Consult a Healthcare Professional

Before administering any medication, talk to a healthcare professional, preferably your child’s pediatrician. They can provide valuable insights into what might be causing the cough or cold and recommend the safest and most effective treatment options based on your child’s age, symptoms, and medical history.

Next, Make Sure You Understand Ingredients and Read Labels

Understanding the ingredients in cough and cold medications is essential. Some ingredients can be harmful or cause adverse reactions in children. Some of the most common ingredients in cough and cold medications include:

Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen

  • Purpose: Both acetaminophen and ibuprofen are used to reduce fever and alleviate pain.
  • Acetaminophen: It’s generally considered safer for most children and infants when used appropriately. However, it’s crucial to administer the correct dosage based on the child’s age and weight to avoid the risk of overdose, which can lead to severe liver damage.
  • Ibuprofen is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that reduces fever and relieves pain. It’s usually safe for children when given appropriately and for the correct duration. However, it’s recommended for infants under a certain age with a doctor’s guidance.

Cough Suppressants (Dextromethorphan)

  • Purpose: Dextromethorphan is a common ingredient used to suppress coughing by affecting the cough reflex in the brain.
  • Age Consideration: It’s important to note that dextromethorphan isn’t recommended for children under a certain age, usually around four years old or as advised by a pediatrician. Its efficacy in younger children is limited, and misuse or overdosing can lead to adverse effects.

Expectorants (Guaifenesin)

  • Purpose: Guaifenesin is an expectorant that works by thinning and loosening mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough up and clear the chest.
  • Safety: It’s generally considered safe for children when used as directed. However, it’s essential to follow the dosage guidelines based on the child’s age and weight to prevent potential side effects like upset stomach or vomiting.


  • Purpose: Antihistamines are commonly used to alleviate symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, and itching by blocking the effects of histamine in the body.
  • Drowsiness: Some antihistamines, especially first-generation ones like diphenhydramine, can cause drowsiness or sedation in children. Newer-generation antihistamines like loratadine or cetirizine tend to cause less drowsiness.

Consider Your Child’s Age and How The Medication is Formulated

Medications for children come in various forms, each with advantages and considerations. Liquid medications offer ease of administration and precise dosage, making them ideal for younger kids. However, their taste might be off-putting and often require specific storage conditions. Pills or tablets are convenient to store and have a longer shelf life, but they can be difficult for young children to swallow and challenging to break for accurate dosing. Chewable medications come in flavors that children prefer, making them more appealing, but they can contain added sugars and still pose a choking hazard. Other forms, like sprays or dissolvable tabs, cater to specific needs but might not be universally available and can contain allergens. When choosing a formulation, it’s crucial to consider your child’s age, preferences, and swallowing ability. Always adhere to dosing instructions and store medications safely to ensure your child’s well-being.

Don’t Forget About Natural Remedies and Home Care

Sometimes, simple home remedies can be effective and safer for children. Humidifiers, saline nasal sprays, warm fluids, and plenty of rest can alleviate symptoms without medication. Natural remedies like honey (for children over one year old) have been found to ease cough symptoms. Other home remedies include:

  • Honey (For Children Over One Year). Honey has natural soothing properties that can help ease cough symptoms. It can be mixed with warm water or herbal teas before bedtime to provide relief.
  • Hydration. Encourage your child to drink plenty of warm fluids like herbal teas, warm water with honey, or clear broths. Fluids help keep them hydrated and soothe a sore throat.
  • Chicken Soup. Chicken soup, often a comforting remedy, can help ease symptoms and provide warmth and hydration.
  • Ginger Tea. Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger tea or warm ginger-infused water can help soothe a sore throat and alleviate cough symptoms.
  • Steam Inhalation. Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water (not boiling) with a towel over the head can help loosen mucus and ease breathing.
  • Propolis. Propolis, a substance collected by honeybees, has antimicrobial properties. Some natural throat sprays or lozenges contain propolis for soothing sore throats.
  • Eucalyptus Oil (for older children). Steam Inhalation or Rubs: Adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a humidifier or using it in a rub (for children over a certain age) can help relieve congestion.

Signs It’s Time To Seek Medical Attention

If your child develops a high fever beyond 102°F (38.9°C) that doesn’t subside with fever-reducing medication, experiences difficulty breathing, or shows signs of rapid or difficult breathing, seek urgent medical help.

A persistent cough lasting more than a week, unusual fatigue, reduced urination, or signs of dehydration like dry mouth and sunken eyes are concerning and require prompt evaluation. Additionally, severe throat pain, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, worsening symptoms, or if your child has underlying health conditions such as asthma or diabetes, necessitate medical attention.

Quality Healthcare Resources You Can Rely On

Choosing the proper cough and cold medication for your child involves careful consideration of their age, symptoms, and the medication’s ingredients and formulations. While these medications can provide relief, they should be used cautiously and under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Sometimes, simple home care and natural remedies might be the safest and most effective option for your child’s well-being. Always prioritize your child’s safety and health when managing their cough and cold symptoms.

Our providers can help with an array of medical and mental health issues. We do everything from wellness checkups and urgent care needs to medication management and therapy.

Contact us today if your child has a cough or cold and you need guidance.