The Risks of Giving Cold and Cough Medicines to Infants

mother comforting infant

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Parents often struggle with caring for infants with colds and coughs largely because the medications they can give babies and small children with respiratory infections are quite limited.

Take the case of a parent with a seven-week-old son who wrote in concerned about how to treat his cold. Although the parent took the child to the doctor, the physician did not mention which cold and cough medicines, if any, the parent could give to the infant.

This is a common problem for parents, but it's easy to pinpoint why the doctor failed to recommend any products for the parent to give to the baby.

Cold and cough medicines with decongestants and antihistamines should not be given to small children and infants. 

Why Pediatricians Don't Recommend Cold and Cough Medicines for Infants

In general, most pediatricians would be against giving such a young infant an over-the-counter cough and cold medication. Some believe that they simply don't work and others are concerned that the risk of side effects is simply too high.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even issued a public health advisory about children's cold medicines saying that "questions have been raised about the safety of these products and whether the benefits justify any potential risks from the use of these products in children, especially in children under two years of age."

In fact, after this advisory, the FDA raised concerns about giving such products to children under four years of age. And cold and cough medicines with decongestants and antihistamines are to be avoided altogether for small children and infants. 

Keep in mind that according to the FDA, most problems with cold medicines occur when "more than the recommended amount is used, if it is given too often, or if more than one cough and cold medicine containing the same active ingredient are being used." However, most infant cold medicines have now been taken off the market.

When children are still very small, it is best to talk with their pediatrician before giving them any cold or cough medicine, even if those meds are available without a prescription.

Alternatives to Cold and Cough Medicines for Babies

Home treatments for an infant's cough and runny nose that might be helpful include using saline nasal drops in your child's nose and then suctioning them out to help clear his nasal passages. A cool-mist humidifier might also help if your child is very congested.

And again, if he is getting worse or is not getting better, has trouble breathing, fever, is very irritable, is too sleepy or isn't eating, you should call your pediatrician for more help and advice.

Wrapping Up

It may be difficult for parents to see their children in pain or discomfort as a result of a cold and a related cough, but the potentially deadly risks that the use of cold and cough medicines present for small children and infants is hardly worth it.

There's a reason these products have been removed from the market for infants and that parents of children up to age 4 have been warned about giving such products to kids as well.

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