Should Your Child See a Doctor?

Coughs: Meds or Home Remedies

Medicines OTC

Over-the-Counter OTC cough and cold medicines can cause side effects. These side effects can be serious in young children. The risks of using these medicines outweigh any benefits. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration FDA looked at this issue in children. They recommended these medicines never be used in young children. After age 6, the medicines are safe to use, if you follow the package instructions. But, it's easy to treat coughs and colds without these medicines.

Home Remedies:

A good home remedy is safe, cheap, and as helpful as OTC medicines. They are also found in nearly every home.Here are some simple but helpful home treatments.

1. Runny Nose: Just suction it or blow it. When your child's nose runs like a faucet, it's getting rid of viruses. Allergy medicines such as Benadryl do not help the average cold. They are useful only if your child has nasal allergies hay fever.

2. Blocked Nose: Use nasal washes.

  • Use saline nose drops or spray to loosen up the dried mucus. If you don't have saline, you can use a few drops of tap water. If under 1 year old, use distilled water or boiled tap water.
  • Step 1: Put 3 drops in each nostril. Age under 1 year old, use 1 drop.
  • Step 2: Blow or suction each nostril separately, while closing off the other nostril. Then do other side.
  • Step 3: Repeat nose drops and blowing or suctioning until the discharge is clear.
  • How Often: Do nasal washes when your child can't breathe through the nose. Limit: If under 1 year old, no more than 4 times per day or before every feeding.
  • Saline nose drops or spray can be bought in any drugstore. No prescription is needed.
  • Saline nose drops can also be made at home. Use ½ teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt. Stir the salt into 1 cup 8 ounces or 240 ml of warm water. Use bottled water or boiled water to make saline nose drops.
  • Reason for nose drops: Suction or blowing alone can't remove dried or sticky mucus. Also, babies can't nurse or drink from a bottle unless the nose is open.
  • Other option: use a warm shower to loosen mucus. Breathe in the moist air, then blow or suction each nostril.
  • For young children, can also use a wet cotton swab to remove sticky mucus.
  • Medicines. There are no drugs that can remove dried mucus from the nose.

3. Coughing: Use homemade cough medicines.

  • Age 3 months to 1 year. Give warm clear fluids such as apple juice or lemonade. Dose: 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml) four times per day when coughing. Under 3 months, see your child's doctor. Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old.
  • Age 1 year and older. Use Honey ½ to 1 teaspoon (2 to 5 ml) as needed. It thins the secretions and loosens the cough. If you don't have honey, you can use corn syrup. Research shows that honey works better than cough syrups to reduce nighttime coughing.
  • Age 6 years and older. Use Cough Drops to coat the irritated throat. If you don't have any, you can use hard candy.
  • Coughing fits. The warm mist from a shower can help.

4. Fluids: Help your child drink lots of fluids. Staying well hydrated thins the body's secretions. That makes it easier to cough and blow the nose.

5. Humidity: If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier. Moist air keeps the nose and airway from drying out. Run a warm shower for a while to help put moisture in the air.

Treatment is Not Always Needed:

  • If symptoms aren't bothering your child, they don't need medicine or any treatment. Many children with a cough or cold are happy, play fine and sleep well.
  • Only treat symptoms if they cause discomfort or wake your child up. Treat a cough if it's hacking and really bothers your child.
  • Fevers are helpful. Only treat them if they slow your child down or cause some discomfort. That does not occur until 102° F (39° C) or higher. Acetaminophen Tylenol or ibuprofen Motrin or Advil can be given. Use to treat higher fever or pain. See Dose tables

Summary. If coughs or colds need treatment, home remedies may work better than medicines.

Estimated Urgent Care Wait Times

These are estimated wait times for each Urgent Care clinic. Wait times are typically longest during the first hour we are open and may not be reflected immediately in the online wait time. Wait times may also vary depending on the severity of the illnesses we are treating. If your child’s illness or injury is life-threating, call 911.

Barton D. Schmitt, M.D., FAAP

Last Reviewed: 10/20/2014

Last Revised: 10/20/2014

Copyright 1994-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. All rights reserved.