Babies are not just small adults. They have unique needs, they may express symptoms of disease differently than adults. In addition, not all cold and flu medicine are suitable for them. The cold season does affect the babies, as the immune system is not fully mature and does not have enough exposure to germs. Symptoms of a cold or flu can trigger a lot of anxiety in parents. Yet, it is important to understand that most children get better on their own and don’t need medicine. The common cold is milder than the flu and less likely to cause serious complications.
Still, parents need to know when cold and flu baby medicine can be used, which ones are suitable at a young age, and which ones are not recommended. The recommendations may be a little bit confusing, as they have been changed over the last few decades.
Cough and cold remedies for babies
- Call the doctor’s office at any sign of illness for children younger than 3 months
- For fever, acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used, but check with a doctor first .
- In children over age 1, honey can be used for coughs and sore throat. (Never give honey to infants!)
- Saline drops, sprays are safe and can be very helpful to clear excess mucus from the nose. Saline solutions can be given with a Neti pot to babies age 2 or older.
- Hydration is important, make sure the child has plenty of fluids.
- Avoid dry air by placing a humidifier in the child’s bedroom. Add an extra pillow to elevate the head and ease nasal congestion.
Warnings and recommendations from health authorities
The U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has some general recommendations regarding cold and flu baby medicine, as some of these drugs can have serious side effects, including can be life-threatening adverse reactions. This is particularly true for infants and young children.
- The FDA doesn’t recommend over-the-counter medicines for the management of cough and cold symptoms in young babies who are younger than 2 years of age.
- Prescription medicines for managing cough symptoms that contain either codeine or hydrocodone should not be used in anyone younger than 18 years of age.
- Many cough and cold formulas contain combinations of medicines, and some of them contain codeine or hydrocodone along with antihistamines or decongestants. While hydrocodone can be found in prescription formulas, some over the counter products contain codeine. These combinations can be used by adults only.
- Furthemore, the FDA also warned about other cough and cold medications, including dextromethorphan (or DM, a cough suppressant), guaifenesin ( a cough expectorant), some antihistamines (for example brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine maleate, and diphenhydramine.
The FDA made these recommendations in 2008. Prior to 2008, this over-the-counter cough and cold medicine had been widely used in babies and young children for decades. However, the FDA does not require drug manufacturers to warn the consumers, but rather mention it on the drug label. These drugs have on the label the fact that they are not indicated for children younger than 4 years of age, although the FDA extends these recommendations to all children younger than 2 years of age.
In 2014, many health experts and The American Academy of Pediatrics called on the FDA to stop using any cough and cold medicine in children under 6, unless prescribed by a doctor. In addition, two more drugs carry special warnings:
- Ibuprofen should not be used by children younger than 6 months of age, or in case of vomiting or dehydration.
- Aspirin is not recommended in any child because of the risk of a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.
Why are these drugs not recommended to young babies?
First of all, there is limited data about the use of these drugs in children, as most research studies are conducted in adults. Therefore it is not well known if the children will react the same way as adults. Even for adults, the scientific evidence that cough and cold medicine helps is weak.
While the risk of serious side effects of these drugs in children is considered low, there are still many emergency visits to the hospital after children took cough and cold medication. Unfortunately, the majority of these cases were because children took the medicine without parent/ caregiver supervision.
It is easy to overdose with these cough and cold ingredients, as different brands contain one or more drugs.
In conclusion, check with a doctor before giving any cough and cold medicine to your baby. Make sure all your medication is kept away from children. Always follow the instructions from the doctor regarding dosage and use the measuring spoons or droppers enclosed in the medicine box. If the symptoms are getting worse, if they don’t improve within a few days or if new symptoms develop, seek medical advice as soon as possible.