My child has a cold, now what?
What can I do to help my child feel better? Are over the counter (OTC) cold and flu medicines recommended?
The short answer: No.
The long answer: OTC medications marketed for colds and flus (Advil Cold & Sinus, Benadryl Plus Congestion, Sudafed Congestion, Tylenol Sinus, Robitussin, and many others) have NOT been shown to be effective in children. Children also metabolize medications differently than adults, which increases the risk of life threatening complications due to accidental overdose. I recommend that you NOT give your child OTC cold and flu medications for the common cold (especially if they are under 6 years old) due to the risks of accidental overdose.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agree that parents should NOT give their children OTC cold and flu medications under the age of 6.
If you choose to give your child an OTC cold and flu medication AND they are over 6 years old, I recommend choosing a product with only one active ingredient that addresses their most bothersome symptom instead of a combination product.
The above recommendation DOES NOT include basic Tylenol (Acetaminophen) or Advil (Ibuprofen). Ibuprofen and acetaminophen ARE recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for discomfort due to fever in children over 6 months. I prefer that my patients choose ibuprofen for their children over 6 months as Tylenol depletes an important antioxidant, called glutathione, in the liver and lungs and may increase the risk of developing asthma. Tylenol is also the number 1 cause of acute (sudden) liver failure in the US.
What about antibiotics for the common cold?
The short answer: No.
The long answer: Antibiotics are not helpful in the common cold because the common cold is caused by a virus. Giving a child with a viral infection an antibiotic will NOT shorten the time that they are sick and contributes to antibiotic resistance.
So what can I do for my child to make them more comfortable?
- Bring your child in for an appointment to make sure that they do not have a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. We can also provide natural alternatives to OTC cold and medicines, including customized botanical formulas.
- Encourage your child to rest and sleep! Their bodies are telling them to slow down and take a break.
- Use saline nasal spray for older children or saline nasal drops with bulb suction for younger children to keep mucus thin.
- Run a cool mist humidifier in their bedroom to keep their nasal passages moist (making sure that it is clean and free of mold prior to use).
- Stay hydrated! Encourage your child to drink plenty of warm herbal tea (such as Traditional Medicinals Cold Care or Throat Coat) and eat plenty of soup.
- In children who are older than 1, you can add honey to their tea to help with coughs and sore throats.
- Warm epsom salt baths can be helpful for muscle aches or irritability that often accompany colds.
How long will this last for?
In both children and adults, the common cold is usually worst around day 2-3 and then gradually resolves over the next 7-14 days.
Some parents are surprised to hear that the average length of the common cold is 10 days and that the average cough can persist for 3 weeks. See the chart below for the length of other common viral respiratory illnesses:
|Viral Illness||AVERAGE length|
|Ear infection||4 days|
|Sore throat||1 week|
|Common cold||1 1/2 weeks|
|Sinusitis||2 1/2 weeks|
by Jodie Murdoch, ND