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My toddler has a cold. What can I do?

Dr. Narang  

Steve Narang, MD, is chief executive officer at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, in Arizona. He is the former chief medical officer at Banner Children's at Cardon Children's Medical Center.

Question: My toddler has a cold. Which medicines are best?

Cough and cold medicines don’t work for children under age six. 

The Food and Drug Administration’s panel of health experts have studied the safety and effectiveness of antihistamines, decongestants, antitussins and expectorants in children and determined that not only don’t they make a cold go away sooner, but the side effects can sometimes be serious. It’s also important to know that a antibiotics may be used to combat bacterial infections but have no effect on viruses, which cause colds.

If your child has a cold, the more she uses antibiotics, the more likely she is to get sick with an antibiotic-resistant infection in the future. while she is toughing it out. So, what can you do for a cold? Here are a few tips:

  • Offer fluids. Liquids such as water, juice and broth can help loosen congestion.
  • Encourage coughing. Coughing can help clear mucus from your child's airway. If your child needs help coughing, place your child on your lap, lean her body forward about 30 degrees, and gently tap her back.
  • Use a suction bulb for a baby or young child. This device draws mucus out of the nose. Squeeze the bulb part of the syringe, gently place the tip inside one nostril and slowly release the bulb.
  • Moisten nasal passages. Run a cool-mist humidifier in your child's room. To prevent mold growth, change the water daily and follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions. Steam from a hot shower may help, too. Over-the-counter saline nose drops also can loosen thick nasal mucus and make it easier for your child to breathe. For babies, follow-up with a suction bulb.
  • Soothe a sore throat. For a child older than age four, gargling salt water or sucking on hard candy or cough drops may soothe a sore throat. Honey also may help relieve a cough. Try 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 milliliters) for children ages two to five, one teaspoon (5 milliliters) for children ages six to 11 and 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) for children age 12 and older. Due to the risk of infant botulism, a rare but serious form of food poisoning, never give honey to a child younger than age 1.
  • Encourage rest. Consider keeping your child home from school and other activities if she has a fever or bad cough.
Page Last Modified: 03/01/2015
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