The side effects of over the counter medicines for treating baby’s cold

Most colds don’t cause serious complications to children. This is a proven fact. Most children recover in a week or two even if you don’t give them any medications. This is also a proven fact. However, parents are sure to be worried when they see their little ones suffering with runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, fever and pain. Most parents go for over the counter medications to make their kids feel better. Well, you will think again before buying OTC medicines if you come to know about the side effects.

The FDA suggests that children below the age of 2 should not be given cold medication. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend cold medications for kids below the age of 4. Despite the recommendations made by them, there is no shortage of over the counter medicines for cold. Just because many medicines are available, it does not mean that they are effective in treating your kid’s cold. Most medicines are minimally effective or not at all effective. They are not safe also.


What are the side effects of OTC cold medications?

  • Acetylsalicylic acid or Aspirin can cause Reye’s syndrome in kids. Reye’s syndrome refers to a condition that causes swelling of brain and liver.
  • Prolonged use of Acetaminophen  or Paracetamol can be toxic to the liver. Paracetamol is safe when you follow the dosage guidelines .
  • Antihistamines like zyrtec and diphenhydramine like Benadryl can cause sleepiness and drowsiness. It may also cause hallucination and agitation.
  • Codeine is chemically altered into morphine in the liver. Morphine is dangerous because it causes significant suppression in breathing.
  • Decongestants make a child anxious or hyper and cause rapid beating of heart.

What you should know about over the counter medications for kids?

You should know that most of the cold medications for kids have been studied only on adults and not on children. Health care professionals have assumed that the medications behave similarly for both adults and kids. They just reduce the dosage based on the proportion of the body’s weight. For example, 50 percent of the adult dosage is recommended if the child weighs half the body weight of an adult. The efficacy of cough and cold medications was assumed to be similar in children as demonstrated in adult studies. However, that this is incorrect. It is not only incorrect but dangerous as well. Without formal studies it is not safe to prescribe or use a drug. When you are giving a cold or cough medicine to your child, you should know that it would not have been formally studied on kids and hence it is not safe.

Why should you for unsafe and ineffective remedies when you have safer options?

  • Honey is an effective cough suppressant.
  • Saline drops with nasal aspirators can get rid of nasal congestion.
  • Run cool mist humidifiers to loosen nasal secretions.
  • In older children encourage salt water gargling to make throat infections better.
  • Use natural cough and cold balms to soothe your baby’s discomfort.

The best thing is to avoid OTC cold medications but if you are desperate and if you do want to go for OTC drugs, do follow some important precautions.

Precautions to be followed before going for OTC medications

  • Some of the OTC medications do not contain a single ingredient but are a blend of two or more ingredients. It is important to study the ingredients. For example the cold medication and the cough medication may contain acetaminophen. This will result in double dosage. Make sure you double check the ingredients.
  • Follow the dosing instructions.
  • Use the dosing cup for liquid medications. Avoid kitchen spoons.
  • Keep the medications out of sight and reach of little children.
  • Never make the mistake of doing self diagnosis. If you have any doubts about the medication or about the condition of your child, do get them cleared from a health care professional.

Further reading

Home remedies for baby’s cold 

One thought on “The side effects of over the counter medicines for treating baby’s cold

  1. Pingback: Are Cough Syrups Safe To Use In Children?

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