Springdale Mason Pediatrics

Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies?


  • Every parent wants to help their child get over cough and cold symptoms.
  • You could buy a non-prescription cough and cold medicine. Or you could turn to some home remedies. Which is better?

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  • You have other questions or concerns

About This Topic

Cough and Cold Medicines (OTC)

  • Over-the-Counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines can cause side effects. These side effects can be serious in young children. The risks of using these medicines outweigh any benefits.
  • In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looked at this issue in children. They recommended cough and cold medicines never be used in young children.
  • After age 6, the medicines are safe to use, if you follow the package instructions. But, it's easy to treat coughs and colds without these medicines.

After Care Advice

  • Cough and cold medicines can cause side effects in children.
  • A good home remedy is safe, cheap, and as helpful as OTC meds.
  • They are also found in nearly every home.
  • Here are some simple but helpful home treatments to make your child comfortable.
Runny Nose:
  • Just suction it or blow it.
  • When your child's nose runs like a faucet, it's getting rid of viruses.
  • Allergy medicines (such as Benadryl) do not help the average cold. They are useful only if your child has nasal allergies (hay fever).
Blocked Nose:
  • Use nasal saline.
  • Use saline (salt water) nose spray or drops to loosen up the dried mucus. Next blow or suction the nose. If you don't have saline, use a few drops of bottled water or clean tap water. (If under 1 year old, use bottled water or boiled tap water.)
  • Put 2-3 drops in each nostril. Do one side at a time. Then suction or blow. Teens can just splash warm water into the nose. Repeat nasal saline until the return is clear.
  • How Often. Do nasal saline when your child can't breathe through the nose. For babies on a bottle or breast, use nose drops before feeds. Limit: No more than 4 times per day.
  • You can buy saline nose drops and sprays in any drug store. To make your own, use 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt. Stir the salt into 1 cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of water. You must use bottled or boiled water for this purpose.
  • Sticky Mucus. Remove it with a wet cotton swab.
  • Medicines. There are no drugs that can remove dried mucus from the nose.
  • Use homemade cough medicines.
  • AGE 3 months to 1 year. Give warm clear fluids (such as apple juice or lemonade). Dose: 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml) four times per day when coughing. Under 3 months, see your child's doctor. Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old.
  • AGE 1 year and older. Use HONEY 1/2 to 1 tsp (2 to 5 ml) as needed. It thins the secretions and loosens the cough. If you don't have honey, you can use corn syrup. Research shows that honey works better than cough syrups to reduce nighttime coughing.
  • AGE 6 years and older. Use COUGH DROPS to decrease the tickle in the throat. If you don't have any, you can use hard candy.
  • Coughing fits. The warm mist from a shower can help.
  • Help your child drink lots of fluids.
  • Staying well hydrated thins the body's secretions. That makes it easier to cough and blow the nose.
  • If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier. Moist air keeps the nose and airway from drying out.
  • Run a warm shower for a while to help put moisture in the air.
Treatment is Not Always Needed:
  • If symptoms aren't bothering your child, they don't need medicine or any treatment. Many children with a cough or cold are happy, play fine and sleep well.
  • Only treat symptoms if they cause discomfort or wake your child up. Treat a cough if it's hacking and really bothers your child.
  • Fevers are helpful. Only treat them if they slow your child down or cause some discomfort. That does not occur until 102° F (39° C) or higher. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) can be given. Use to treat higher fever or pain.
  • If coughs or colds need treatment, home remedies may work better than medicines.

Author: Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Copyright 2000-2021 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC
Disclaimer: This health information is for educational purposes only. You the reader assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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