Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are medicines you can buy for your child without a prescription from your doctor. OTC cough and cold medicines can help relieve common cold symptoms such as cough, stuffy or runny nose, fever, body aches, and sore throat. Even though you can buy these medicines at your local grocery or drug store, that doesn’t mean they’re harmless. If they are taken the wrong way, they can make your child feel worse and can even be harmful.
Are over-the-counter cough and cold medicines safe for children?
When used as directed, over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines usually are safe for children older than 4 years of age and may help to relieve some of your child’s symptoms. You should not give these medicines to children younger than 4 years of age unless your doctor says it’s okay.
Your child’s body processes medicine differently than your adult body. For this reason, some OTC medicines are made just for children or have specific dosing instructions for children. Do not give medicines made just for adults to your child. Talk to your family doctor if you have any questions about giving your child OTC cough or cold medicines.
Can OTC medicines cure my child’s cough or cold?
No, OTC cough and cold medicines can not cure a cough or a cold and they do not shorten the amount of time your child will be sick. They can only help relieve your child’s symptoms.
What questions should I ask before I give my child an OTC medicine?
If a doctor, nurse or pharmacist recommends you give your child an OTC medicine, be sure to ask these questions:
How can I be sure I’m giving my child the right amount of medicine?
Read the directions on the drug label to learn how much medicine to give your child and how often to give it to him or her. If you have any questions about how much medicine you should give your child, call your family doctor or pharmacist.
Follow these tips to help make sure you give your child the right amount of medicine:
An appropriate liquid-medicine measuring device should be labeled with both teaspoons (tsp) and milliliters (mL).
What should I do if my child has a bad response to an OTC cough or cold medicine?
If your child has a bad response to any OTC medicine, stop giving him or her the medicine and tell your doctor right away. If you keep a medicine log (1-page PDF; About PDFs) for your child, bring it along to your child’s appointment. You will need important information about what happened, including:
What else can I do to relieve my child’s cough and cold symptoms?
There are a number of ways to help your child feel better without giving him or her medicine. The most important thing to do is make sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks lots of fluids. If your child has a stuffy nose, saline nose drops can be a safe, nonirritating way to fight congestion. Placing a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s room overnight can also help relieve a stuffy nose, congestion or cough. (Just be sure to keep the humidifier clean in order to prevent the growth of bacteria.) Or, turn your bathroom into a steam room by closing the door and turning the shower on hot. Sit outside the shower with your child for about 15 minutes.
From the American Academy of Family Physicians and its www.FamilyDoctor.org website – a health information resource for the whole family.
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