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Honey is helpful for children older than 1 year of age to help soothe sore throats and cough and is more effective than over-the-counter cough medication to reduce cough. Honey is helpful for children older than 1 year of age to help soothe sore throats and cough and is more effective than over-the-counter cough medication to reduce cough.
2024 Jan

Cough and Cold Medicines for Children

When are cough and cold medicines appropriate for children?

Winter season brings more than cold weather. It brings coughs and colds as well. Most viral illnesses begin with a day or two of fever, followed by a week of runny nose and cough. For kids, a cold feels miserable, and as parents, we just want to provide some sort of relief to our little ones. It seems logical to want to give some medication, but what can you give and what is not safe?

OTC Cough and Cold Medication

The America Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 4 years of age should NOT be given any over-the-counter cough and cold medications. Children ages 4 to 6 years old should only take medication at the advice of their pediatric healthcare provider. Although children aged 7 years and older may use a correct dose of an over-the-counter cough and cold medication, this will not help them get better faster and may have side effects. There are risks if medications are given too often or if the dose is inappropriate.

Use fever reducers according to package instructions. Dose fever reducers according to weight. For infants older than 2 months, children’s acetaminophen is dosed every 4 hours. Children’s ibuprofen is dosed every 6 to 8 hours and is available for those 6 months of age and older. Alternating fever-reducers increases the risk of overdose, so consider choosing one. Always utilize a medication syringe to accurately measure the medication. Never give aspirin to children due to a risk of Reye’s syndrome (a potentially life-threatening condition).

If your child does not seem bothered by the cold, then it is likely that he or she does not need any medication. Be aware of their behavior. If he is playful and active, consider taking a careful wait-and-watch approach. If you are concerned about your child’s illness, you can always reach out to your pediatric healthcare provider.

Home Remedies

Home remedies can be effective for easing discomforts brought on by viral colds and coughs. For infants and young children, congestion can be irritating. The use of nasal saline spray (or drops) can loosen sections, and a bulb syringe can help to clear your child’s nose. You can do so by first applying the nasal saline spray, then squeezing the bulb before placing the bulb in your child’s nostril. Suctioning before feeding can help infants nurse or take their bottles.

Honey is helpful for children older than 1 year of age to help soothe sore throats and cough. Honey is more effective than over-the-counter cough medication to reduce cough. You may mix it with water or decaffeinated tea. Infants under one year of age may NOT have honey due to the risk of infant botulism.

Humidification is helpful to ease irritated airways. Hard crusts in the nose can trap secretions, making children more uncomfortable. Keeping the secretions liquid and flowing can ease their discomfort. A cool-mist humidifier is recommended as warm mist humidifiers may cause burns. If you do not have a humidifier, running a steamy shower can be helpful to get moisture into the air.

Fluids are essential to keeping secretions thin. Be sure to offer a variety of fluids frequently. Remember that infants less than 6 months of age can only drink breast milk or formula, so offer it more frequently. You may not give water to infants less than 6 months of age. Toddlers and older children may enjoy a variety of fluids such as water, juice, Jello, soup, and popsicles. Kids may not feel like eating much but keep them drinking.

Misuse of Medication

The misuse of medication can be serious and even life-threatening. If you have concerns about a possible poisoning issue, call the Poison Control hotline at 1-800-222-1222. If you suspect an overdose from any medication, dial 911.

When To Seek Pediatric Healthcare

Call your pediatric healthcare provider or go to the emergency department immediately if you have an infant younger than 2 months with any fever. If your child has had a fever for more than 2 days without other symptoms, see your pediatric healthcare provider. Coughs and colds lasting longer than a week without improvement deserve a visit, as do changes in behavior. Night wakening, ear pain, sore throat are all concerns that require medical evaluation. If you have questions or concerns, call your pediatric healthcare provider. If your child is having difficulty breathing, color changes with cough, or respiratory distress, dial 911.

Knowing how to help your child with a cough or cold can provide comfort to them and peace of mind to you as a parent. All parents try to do their best to help their children during illness. If you are concerned about your child’s health, do not hesitate to call your child’s pediatric healthcare provider.

For additional information, see:

*Disclaimer: This information is only for educational purposes and should not be used as a substitute for medical care. The reader assumes full responsibility for the utilization of the information provided. Please reach out to your pediatric healthcare provider with any questions.

Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP

Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner as well as core faculty member at Walden University. Her book, Raising Today’s Baby: Second Edition, is available on


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