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Treating the Common Cold in Children

There are many "cough and cold" products available. Many of them do not actually work that well and others have side effects that outweigh any benefits. And some should always be avoided unless your doctor specifically instructs you to give it to your child.

  • Aspirin and other aspirin-containing products should never be given to children because aspirin has been associated with Reye's syndrome, a serious illness that affects the liver and brain.

  • Cough suppressants (dextromethorphan, for example) are no better at quieting children's coughs than plain cherry syrup and can have serious side effects.

  • Decongestant nose sprays may help to treat nasal stuffiness by decreasing swelling of the lining in the nose, but should never be used for more than two or three days. If used longer, the nasal congestion will actually get worse instead of better.

  • Ephedra (Ma huang) has been used as a decongestant in the past, but should never be given to children due to its possible serious side effects.

  • Expectorants (guaifenesin, for example) are supposed to loosen up mucous and make it easier to be coughed out. Unfortunately, they have not been shown to help children who have colds.

  • Herbal remedies (such as Echinacea or goldenseal) have not been well studied for treating colds in children and may have unwanted side effects.

  • Throat sprays and cough drops that contain an anesthetic, such as benzocaine (Cepacol) or phenol (Cepastat, Chloraseptic), can help numb any throat pain. However, the tongue and other parts of the mouth can become numb as well.

  • Zinc lozenges may help adults get over a cold faster but they do not seem to lessen cold symptoms in children. Most children do not like their taste and children younger than age four might choke on them.

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