About 7,000 children end up in emergency rooms every year from taking OTC cough and cold medicines. Most problems are related to dosage. The smaller the child, the smaller the margin is between dose and overdose. There are even questions as to whether these medications relieve symptoms and make your child feel better. But there is no question that the active ingredients in these preparations can cause serious side effects. There are other ways to ease your child's discomfort.
Congestion in a blocked up nose can be eased with nasal saline drops, possibly using gentle suction from a rubber bulb to remove or loosen mucus. Humidity and moisture are always helpful in easing congestion. Simply taking your child into a bathroom where a hot shower is running will help open breathing passages and help settle down coughing. Drinking warm liquids is also helpful.
The FDA issued a public health advisory which recommended that OTC cough and cold medications not be given to children under the age of two...
For the pain of a sore throat or bad cough, most doctors recommend OTC acetaminophen or ibuprofen, in age-appropriate doses.
In October 2008, the FDA issued a public health advisory which recommended that OTC cough and cold medications not be given to children under the age of two "because serious and potentially life-threatening side effects can occur." Around this time, manufacturers began to change the labeling on their products to read that they should not be given to children under the age of four. The FDA is still conducting a review on the safety of OTC cold and cough medicines on children as old as 11.
All these age recommendations may seem confusing. At the moment, the easiest way to deal with them may very well be to avoid giving OTC cold and cough medicines to children of any age.
Roughly two-thirds of the OTC emergency room visits come from children drinking candy-colored and -flavored medication while unsupervised. Keep medication in a place where children cannot easily get to it and make sure that any bottle you buy has a childproof safety cap. For liquids, use only the measuring cup that comes with the medication. Teaspoons are not all the same size and will deliver different doses.
A cold will cause your child some breathing difficulty, but a child who is struggling to breathe is a medical emergency and should be seen by a doctor as quickly as is possible. The same holds true for any child under three months old who has a fever.