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Cough Medicine For Kids: Why They Shouldn't Have It

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cough medicine for kids

I can still remember the grape taste of the liquid my parents thought was the best medicine for my recurrent coughs and colds growing up. These medicines still populate the pharmacy shelves, but before you reach for that cough and cold medicine for kids, please take pause.

While these were once commonplace and thought to be safe, we now have some evidence to suggest otherwise.

For one, evidence shows that children’s cough and cold medicine doesn't actually help improve symptoms of a cold. In addition, there are potential side effects, especially in young children.

What are typical cough and cold medicines for kids?

These ingredients are commonly in cough and cold medicine for kids:

1. Cough suppressants – containing dextromethorphan (or ‘DM’)
2. Decongestants – containing pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine
3. Cough expectorants – guaifenesin
4. Antihistamines – such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), chlorpheniramine and brompheniramine

What are we worried about?

Many cough and cold remedies have not been well studied in children, and there are potential dangers to your child’s heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure and level of consciousness if too much medication is consumed.

These medicines can potentially lead to seizures, coma or even death in some kids. In addition, having the medicines in the house increases the risk of accidental consumption.

What can you use for cough and cold?

I recommend against using any cough or cold medicines for children under the age of six. For children older than six, if you choose to use these medications, please follow the instructions on the box and use the enclosed measuring dropper or dosing cup.

Never give your children adult cough and cold medicine. And, of course, make sure your child is seen by a physician if you are worried about their symptoms or they are getting more sick.

If your child is under six, here are some tips to remedy their symptoms:

1. Ensure your child gets lots of rest and fluids
2. Consider using a saline spray and suction to clear congestion
3. Use a humidifier in their room
4. Prop up their mattress or use an extra pillow for older kids
5. Kids older than one year of age can take honey, which research demonstrates to be more effective than cough medicine in the reduction of symptoms of cough and cold
6. Remember to keep your hands clean to prevent family members and friends from getting sick, too.

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Around the Web

Kid's Cold Medicines: New Guidelines - WebMD

Babies & Toddlers With Coughs or Colds: Drug-Free Relief - WebMD

Cold medicines for kids: What's the risk? - Mayo Clinic

Stronger warnings urged after young children given cough medicine

Health alert: Cold and cough medicines dangerous for children!