Best to Avoid Cold Medicine for Children

Cold season has arrived! We are all familiar with the discomforts of a cold, from runny noses to coughs that disturb our sleep. Although we may reach for an over-the-counter medicine in an effort to feel better, a recent article from the New York Times discusses studies that suggest how over-the-counter medicines may do more harm than good for treating a cold, especially in young children.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against the use of any over-the-counter cough and cold medications by children under the age of 6 years.
  • There is currently no evidence that decongestants, antihistamines, or cough suppressants help nasal symptoms in children, but they can lead to negative side effects like drowsiness or an upset stomach.
  • Cold symptoms usually go away on their own within 7-10 days. If your child is having difficulty breathing, such as breathing faster or harder than normal, reach out to your primary care physician.

For a summary of different treatments and their effectiveness to treat the common cold in adults and children, check out the interactive figure from a recent scientific article. If you click on one of the boxes in the figure, there are descriptions about over-the-counter medications’ effects on congestion, runny nose (rhinorrhea), and sneezing for both adults and children! The figure also reviews potential problems with the medications.