What Cold and Flu Products Are Best For My Child?

Learn what meds to give at which ages, and which ones to avoid

Mom giving medication to child

Your little one’s got the sniffles, and sneezes are sure to follow. But you’re at a loss as to which over-the-counter (OTC) medications are OK to give them. Can some hurt your child? Pharmaceutical Care Manager Alison Miller, explains.

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Miller says it’s important to remember that supportive care is No. 1 for all ages. “These include providing a cool mist humidifier (avoid hot because it can burn a child) with a clean filter, fluids to prevent dehydration and lots of rest and TLC.”

In addition to these, Miller suggests using the following guidelines by age.

Ages 0 to 4

  • Avoid cough & cold OTC products as these may be more risk than added benefit.
  • Use acetaminophen and ibuprofen products under your doctor’s supervision, and be sure to follow the prescribed dosing directions.
  • Use saline nasal spray and nasal bulb for suction to help clear little noses.

Ages 4 to 6

  • Avoid cough & cold OTC products as these may be more risk than added benefit.
  • Use acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays as recommended and be sure to follow age or weight-based dosing directions.
  • Use saline nasal spray as needed.

Ages 6 to 12

  • Use cough & cold OTC products under your doctor’s supervision and follow recommended dosing directions.
  • Use acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays as recommended and be sure to follow age or weight-based dosing directions.
  • Use saline nasal spray as needed.

Ages 13 +

  • Use cough, cold and other OTC products to ease symptoms and follow recommended dosing directions.
  • Only treat one symptom at time and avoid combining products.
  • Use saline nasal spray as needed.

Take-home tips

  • Match dose to strength. Medicines come in different concentrations. Use the right dose for your product’s strength.
  • Spoons aren’t reliable. Use the product’s measuring device or buy one at your pharmacy.
  • After age 1, honey helps. Giving ½ to 2 teaspoons of honey at bedtime can ease cough. Don’t try this before age 1. Honey can cause botulism in infants.
  • Remember Reye’s syndrome. Aspirin can cause this deadly illness in kids younger than 12. Use aspirin only if your doctor recommends it.

Follow these best practices:

  • Use OTC medication for short term duration.
  • OTC medications can have drug interactions, so be sure to check with your local pharmacist before administering.
  • Treat one symptom at time to avoid combining products.
  • Shake well on all suspension medications.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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