December Feature Series – Winter Health: Treating Kids’ Colds

Choosing the right cold medication can make your life more comfortable.

Sure, you’ve heard that over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications are inappropriate for infants and preschoolers, but you haven’t yet figured out how you’ll provide relief when your child comes down with the sniffles. Since this is the season for scratchy throats and runny noses, read on to learn about your best options:


It’s important for kids to stay well hydrated to fight off the common cold; slurping down ample fluids will ease congestion. Warm and cool liquids both work. (Think tea, apple juice or water.) Skip caffeinated beverages, which may cause dehydration.

Flu Vaccines Recommendations for Children

When flu season strikes, be sure that your child is fully protected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children ages 6 months and older be given annual flu shots. Children under age 5 are particularly susceptible to complications from the flu, which can occasionally lead to death. (More than 80 children died of flu-related complications during the 2007-2008 flu season, the last season for which statistics are available.) Visit your child’s pediatrician for a vaccination, if you haven’t already.

Saline Nasal Spray

Spraying non-medicated, non-irritating salt water into the nostrils can help combat stuffiness and congestion. It’s safe for kids of all ages, even infants.


Adding a squirt of the sweet stuff to a warm beverage can help soothe a tiny sore throat. But never give honey to babies under a year old; it can cause botulism in infants.


Spending time in a dry environment can lead to nasal congestion or make a sore throat feel worse. Add some moisture to the air in your home with a portable humidifier. Just follow the unit’s cleaning instructions to prevent mold growth.


Steam can help loosen nasal and chest congestion. Turn your bathroom into a steam room by closing the door and running a hot shower. Securely hold your child away from the water and never leave him or her unattended. Sit in the bathroom for about 10-15 minutes.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Several research studies have shown that chicken noodle soup is effective in relieving congestion and other cold symptoms. Either homemade or store-bought will do the trick. Just don’t feed it to babies or toddlers who are not ready for solid food yet and make sure it’s not too hot.

Petroleum Jelly

If your child’s nose is irritated from constant wiping or dripping, gently rub petroleum jelly on the area to sooth and protect it.


Do you typically rely on vitamin C, echinacea or zinc supplements when cold symptoms strike? Studies about their effectiveness have been inconclusive, so don’t bother giving them to your kids.

Although school aged children can be given OTC cold medications, it’s still important to be extra vigilant. Never give children adult-strength drugs, and don’t give them two drugs containing the same ingredient. For example, a cough suppressant and a decongestant may both contain a pain reliever like acetaminophen, resulting in a double dosage of that medication, which may cause liver problems.

Menthol and eucalyptus vapors may help relieve congestion; however, there have been reports questioning the safety of these products when used on children. Consult your child’s physician before using them.

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