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Safe Use of Cough and Cold Medicines in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 7, 2024.

What do I need to know about cough and cold medicines?

Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines contain 1 or more ingredients used to decrease cough and cold symptoms. OTC cough medicine may contain an antitussive, expectorant, or both. Antitussives decrease cough by blocking your child's cough reflex. Expectorants thin mucus to help clear it from your child's airway. Cold medicines may have any combination of a cough medicine, antihistamine, decongestant, and pain medicine. Antihistamines may help reduce runny nose and sneezing. Decongestants may help to reduce nasal congestion (stuffiness). Pain medicines also help to decrease a fever.

Who should not take OTC cough and cold medicines?

Children under the age of 4 years should not take OTC cough and cold medicines. Do not give medicines that contain aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he or she takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.

How do I safely give OTC cough and cold medicines to my child?

What else can I do to keep my child safe?

What do I need to know about OTC cough and cold medicine overdose?

An overdose means your child has had too much cough and cold medicine. An overdose can become life-threatening. Your child may have any of the following if he or she has had an overdose of OTC cough and cold medicine:

What should I do if I think my child took too much OTC cough and cold medicine?

Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

Call 911 if:

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.