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Johns Hopkins Health - Read This Before Giving Your Kids Cold or Flu Medication

Winter 2011
Issue No. 11

Read This Before Giving Your Kids Cold or Flu Medication

Date: January 20, 2011

asian girl blowing her nose

Although you don’t want to see your children suffer during a bout of cold or flu, be careful how you provide  symptom relief, particularly if you use   over-the-counter, or OTC, medications without a doctor’s direction.

“There has never been a study showing that over-the-counter cough and cold medications work in children,” says David Tunkel, M.D., director of pediatric otolaryngology (also called ear, nose and throat, or ENT) at Johns Hopkins. So, instead of giving your kids decongestants and cough syrups, consider using simple remedies such as honey (for kids age 1 and older) to relieve a cough or sore throat, a humidifier, or saltwater drops to ease nasal congestion.

When it comes to the flu, age-appropriate doses of ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can relieve your child’s pain and fever. But remember not to give aspirin, which has been associated with Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal disease affecting organs such as the brain and liver.

For children younger than age 2, Tunkel cautions against giving any OTC cough and cold medications without medical advice, as the medications have been known to cause severe side effects. Negative reactions can be seen even in older children, particularly when the recommended doses are exceeded, Tunkel says.

“The potential for harm is significant,” he says, noting that caregivers often don’t measure medicines accurately and can easily give an infant or toddler an accidental overdose. Plus, OTC preparations have similar or identical ingredients, creating the potential for overdose when more than one product is used together.

OTC cough and cold medications also can be harmful to some adults. Decongestants, for example, work by constricting blood vessels, meaning they can raise blood pressure. Talk to your physician before using them.

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