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It used to be that when your child got sick, you could go to your local drugstore and pick from dozens of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. That changed after FDA reports of possible life-threatening side effects in young children.
Cough and cold products for children younger than two aren't available and studies are continuing into whether or not they even work for older kids.
So, what can you do? There is no medication proven to directly kill the virus causing your child's cold or flu, so you have the option of doing nothing—most colds will pass in 5 to 10 days. But knowing that won't help when you're up all night with your sick child.
Instead, take steps to ease your child's symptoms until they pass. In general, make sure she's drinking plenty of fluids (fruit juices are recommended) and getting lots of rest. That old standby, chicken soup, does work. She'll be getting fluids and scientists think chemicals in the broth (for kids over the age of one) help break up lung congestion and may help the immune system.
Here are a few more suggestions:
- Congestion and runny nose. For easier breathing, try a cool mist humidifier to increase the moisture in the air, especially while she's sleeping (avoid the heated humidifiers because young children can get burned). Clean the humidifier daily to prevent the machine from collecting dust and mold from growing. Spending time in a steamy bathroom can also help clear your child's congestion. If you've got a congested baby, try raising her head while she sleeps by putting a towel or blanket under the crib mattress. If your baby rolls down the slope, roll a towel and place it under the crib sheet in the shape of a U around her legs to keep her in place. Do not place towels or extra blankets or bedding on the mattress itself because they may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). You may also want to try clearing her congestion with a suction bulb. Remember to squeeze the bulb slightly before putting it in your child's nose. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends this method for infants 6 months or younger. Other simple steps can help your congested child, no matter her age. The vapors from a menthol rub can have her breathing easier. Also, try giving her a back rub to loosen the gunk in her lungs. Even if it doesn't, the extra attention will help her as she's dealing with the cold. One more bit of advice: Apply a little petroleum jelly under your child's nose to soothe the pain in areas rubbed raw from blowing with tissues.
- Fever. A fever is part of the body's way of fighting infection. Although fevers are less common with colds, they can occur with the flu. That means, your child's temperature may get over 100.4oF (38oC), but it's actually good for her. If she is playing, drinking fluids and acting well, no treatment is probably needed. However, if the fever is making her uncomfortable or keeps her from sleeping, try children's acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) if she's older than 6 months. If you have any questions, ask your pediatrician. And don't ever give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 years—it can lead to Reye syndrome, a rare, but serious disease.
- Sore throat. Let your sick child indulge her sweet tooth a little with a cold Popsicle, smoothie or ice cream. She gets the necessary fluids and the coolness can help soothe her throat. According to the AAP, kids older than 4 years may find relief from sucking on hard candy or cough drops.
- Cough. Don't be tempted by cough suppressants because they can prevent congestion from getting out of your child's lungs. Instead, try honey (as long as your kid is older than a year). Scientific studies have shown what grandmothers around the world have known for years—honey will help your child's cough and let you both get some sleep.
- Body aches. Body aches can occur with a cold and are more common with the flu. Much like treating a fever, you can try children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but no aspirin. You may also want to try giving her a warm bath or let her lie on a heating pad with supervision.