Cough and Cold Medicines Harm Young Children, Try Alternatives
News that 40 percent of parents give cough and cold medicines to young children under the age of 4, a practice that exposes the kids to significant harm, triggers questions about what else parents can give their children to relieve symptoms. Fortunately, there are a number of natural alternatives.
OTC cough and cold meds can be dangerous for kids
A University of Michigan poll found that 4 out of 10 parents are ignoring the advice of experts and giving their young children over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines. One-quarter of the poll respondents said they gave their children decongestants, which are also harmful.
These drug use warnings are not new. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advisory that these medications should be avoided in infants and children younger than two. Cough and cold OTC drug makers then changed their labels, stating that their products should not be given to children younger than four years old.
Use of these products in young children delivers a double-edged problem. One is the potential to cause harm, including symptoms such as allergic reactions, arrhythmia, confusion, constipation, drowsiness, hallucinations, nausea, seizures, and slowed breathing.
Another problem is that these products have not been proven to be effective in young children. However, there are some natural alternatives parents can consider to help relieve cough and cold symptoms in young children.
Alternative treatments for cough and cold
The following alternative treatments for cough and cold symptoms have been found to be both safe and helpful for young children. However, you should discuss any alternative treatment choices with your pediatrician, preferably before the need arises for their use so you will be prepared.
Honey: For children older than 12 months of age, the use of honey to relieve cough has been found to be effective. A 2012 study in Pediatrics reported that various types of honey (eucalyptus, labiatae, and citrus), when compared with placebo, were effective in relieving cough in children ages 1 to 5 years who had an uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection.
The authors concluded that “Honey may be a preferable treatment for cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood URI [upper respiratory infection].” Honey should not be given to children younger than 12 months because of the risk of botulism.
Peppermint oil: Add a few drops of peppermint or mint oil in a vaporizer and let it run during the night to help with cough and nasal congestion during sleep.
Probiotics: Research suggests children who consume beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, experience fewer cough and cold symptoms. One study reported that children who drank milk containing probiotics developed 72 percent fewer fevers, 62 percent fewer episodes of cough, and 59 percent fewer runny noses. Talk to your pediatrician about giving probiotics to your child.
Fennel: Tea made with fennel can relieve cough. Because fennel does not have a pleasant taste, a drop of maple syrup or agave syrup can sweeten the tea for young children.
Yarrow: Tea made with the herb yarrow may help relief pain associated with colds, such as headache, as well as fever. Yarrow has some anti-inflammatory properties.
Other herbal teas: Catnip, Echinacea, elderflower, and gentian herbal teas may reduce fever.
For all of the teas, organic is preferred. Suggested doses are no more than 1 teaspoon three to four times a day for children younger than 12 months and up to 2 tablespoons four times a day for children ages 1 to 3 years.
Any child who experiences a fever that is greater than 101 F and/or has breathing difficulties or other worsening symptoms should see a pediatrician.
Cough and cold medicines for children can pose significant dangers, and parents are urged to carefully read the instructions on any OTC drugs before giving them to young children. However, there are safe alternatives parents should consider for managing cough and cold symptoms as well.
Cohen HA et al. Effect of honey on nocturnal cough and sleep quality: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Pediatrics 2012 Sep 1; 130: 465-71
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health