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Why over-the-counter cold medicine can be dangerous for kids under age 12

When your child has a cold and is feeling miserable, you likely want to do more than just offer chicken noodle soup and wait for him or her to feel better. I strongly caution parents, however, to refrain from giving over-the-counter cold and cough medicine.

Not only do studies show that these medicines aren’t effective, they can be dangerous for kids under 12 years of age, as the products in the medicine can lead to a decrease in respiratory rate and an increase in heart rate.

Easing your child’s cold symptoms

About 50 percent of what Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin pediatricians are seeing right now is the common cold.

Colds typically last at least a week, but there’s a lot you can do at home to help your child feel better without giving him or her over-the-counter cold medicine. For instance:

  • A teaspoon of honey can soothe a cough (do not give honey to infants)
  • Shower steam clears congestion
  • Tylenol or ibuprofen for kids 6 months of age or older can ease headaches and body aches.

A lot can be said for good old-fashioned TLC. Fluids, rest and chicken soup can all help your child get better.

When to call a doctor

In most cases, colds will go away on their own in a week or two, but I advise calling your pediatrician if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  •  A 100.4 degree temperature for children under 2 months of age and 102 degrees for children over 2 months
  • Signs of labored breathing
  • Blue lips
  • Not eating or drinking, with signs of dehydration
  • Ear pain
  • Excessive crankiness or sleepiness
  • If the cough lasts for more than three weeks
  • If the child is getting worse

When in doubt, parents should always call their child’s pediatrician.