Q&A: Kids and colds

Insights from our pediatrician team

Child blowing nose
Q: What is the latest advice about kids and colds?

The most valuable recent information is that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not recommended for kids. These products are no more effective than home remedies, and may contain added Tylenol or ibuprofen, making it easy to cause accidental overdoses when combining medicines.

Instead, try two teaspoons of honey before bed and propping up your child’s head to ease coughing. (Note: Don’t give honey if your child is wheezing or feverish, and never give honey to a child who’s younger than one year old.)

Q: Should I treat my child’s cold with antibiotics?

No. Colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics have no effect on viruses.

Q: How about echinacea, vitamin C or zinc? 

These natural remedies are not recommended either. Support for their effectiveness is sketchy at best, and they may pose risks for kids.

Q: What can I do to relieve my child’s congestion? 
  • Give her warm fluids and plenty of liquids. This will help loosen and thin out the stuff that’s plugging her nose.
  • Try saline to clear the nose — either drops and a bulb syringe for youngsters, or saline spray or nasal irrigation for older kids.
  • Humidify. A cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer adds moisture to the air and may help loosen congestion.
Q: How do I treat a fever? 

Kids can be given acetaminophen after they’re three months old, or ibuprofen after six months. Check with your doctor if you have questions about dosing. Fevers in babies younger than three months old should be evaluated in an emergency room.

Q: What should a child eat and drink when they have a cold? 

Kids may not have much of an appetite when they’re feeling ill, and that’s OK. I worry less about what they’re eating (as long as it’s healthy) and more about how much they’re drinking. Keeping them hydrated with plenty of fluids is important, especially if they have a sore throat.

Q: Should I keep my child home from school?

If his temperature is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, yes, keep him home for 24 hours. Otherwise, use your discretion. A cough after other symptoms have passed isn’t a reason to miss school.

Q: When should I take my child to the doctor?
  • When a fever lasts more than five days
  • When urine output has decreased
  • If she is sluggish or hard to wake up
  • If she is having trouble breathing
  • Anytime you are worried
Q: How can I keep my kids from catching colds? 

Teach them to wash their hands well and often, and to keep their hands away from their face.