Do cold and flu meds really work for babies and tots?

It’s well known that babies and toddlers can get up to seven colds a year. And when they do, they get cranky and can be very miserable. As parents, we suffer along with our little ones through each and every bout – and it’s so convenient to just pop into a pharmacy and reach for an over-the-counter cold and cough remedy to help make them better as soon as possible.

But do they actually do the job? Scientific evidence says no. In fact, studies have shown that babies and toddlers who are given common over-the-counter cold and cough medicines don’t feel any better sooner than kids who don’t receive any. In fact, paediatricians will tell you that most babies and kids with colds will start to feel better within five days, whether they take meds or not!

ALSO SEE: Is it safe to use home remedies to treat my sick child?

But just because a medicine is available over-the-counter, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, they can have negative side effects and they advise that over-the-counter cold and cough medicines should not be given to children younger than 4 years old. The reason, they say, is because each child metabolises medicine differently, so even if you’re giving the right dose, according to the package insert, it can still have side-effects.

Some also contain a combination of ingredients to treat symptoms, which you can easily overdose from giving your little one more than one medicine at a time, for example, a cough syrup and cold drops.

Which cold and cough meds are not recommended?

Cough and cold meds generally fall into four categories, though many contain multiple ingredients to treat various symptoms:

  • Decongestants are supposed to relieve nasal congestion but they can cause side effects like jitteriness, vomiting, and shaking.
  • Antihistamines are supposed to dry up runny noses, though they’re generally used to treat symptoms caused by allergies, and not a cold. Side effects can include hyperactivity, drowsiness, and a dry mouth.
  • Cough suppressants are said to reduce the need to cough, but can cause side effects like drowsiness or jitteriness, dizziness and vomiting.
  • Cough expectorants are supposed to loosen mucus so it’s coughed up more easily but side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and headaches.

Soothing coughs and colds

Experts agree that your best bet if your baby or child has picked up a cold or is coughing, is to try soothe symptoms with natural and home remedies, including:

  • Saline drops or sprays – composed of salt water, they help loosen secretions from the nose and to move mucus out the nose. (If your baby is too young to blow his nose, a bulb syringe can help open clogged nasal passages.)

ALSO SEE: How to clear your baby’s nose

  • Plenty of fluids for hydration, including good old chicken soup. This will loosen the mucus in the nose and throat and help your little one breathe better.
  • Cool-mist humidifier at night – this helps moisten the nasal passages and will help soothe a sore throat and nightime cough. (Just remember to clean the humidifier regularly.)

ALSO SEE: How to choose a humidifier

  • Elevate the head of the mattress or bed – this will help prevent pooling of post-nasal drip secretions in the back of the throat, which can trigger coughs at night.

Of course, lots of hugs, a tincture of time and a little patience will help, too.

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