Every parent dreads seeing their child sick and it is worse when they don’t have a fix for the problem. Most children have 4-10 colds every year, and along with many of them comes the dreaded cough. Cough is a protective reflex by the body to clear the airways of irritating or obstructing material like mucous and can be very aggravating to both the parent and the child.
In January 2008, the FDA warned against giving children less than 2 years old cough and cold medicines due to the possibility of serious harm or death. They later extended the age limit to include children 5 years and under. Their decision was based on evidence from studies showing little to no improvement of symptoms in this age group, and the large number of visits to the emergency room for adverse effects caused by many of these medicines. While complete suppression of the cough can cause problems there are some things that you can do to help with the cough.
Vapor rub containing camphor, menthol, or eucalyptus oils have been shown to help with symptoms at night when used appropriately. For children ages 2 and up, these products should be applied to the chest and neck area at bedtime and have been shown to relieve some but not all the symptoms. If your child has asthma, chronic lung disease, eczema, or a seizure disorder this may not be a good choice for your child as it could irritate their disease.
Another option you can try is honey. Some studies show that giving your child honey 30 minutes before bedtime can help relieve the cough. Honey is not safe for children younger than one year old as it can cause a serious infection with botulism. A cool mist humidifier in your child’s room can also help with cold and cough symptoms. Elevating the head of your child’s bed by placing a towel or blanket under the top mattress may help relieve some of the cough as well.
For children over the age of 6 years there are many over the counter medicines available. They usually contain a combination antihistamines, decongestants, cough suppressants, and cough expectorants intended to help with the symptoms of a cold with cough. Antihistamines are good for a runny nose and decrease the amount of post nasal drainage you have decreasing your cough. Cough suppressants help to suppress your cough but don’t expect it to completely disappear as no medicine can. Cough expectorants do not suppress your cough, but help to keep mucous moist so you can cough it up. It will help with a wet cough, but may not help much if you have a dry cough. Some of the medicines will also add a pain reliever to the mix. The most important thing to remember is not to mix multiple cold and cough medicines unless you are sure about not overdosing on the included medications.
If you are unsure about what to try talk with your doctor before giving any medicine to your child. Remember that your child’s cough is still a protective, airway clearing reflex and try not to suppress it completely.