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March 2023

Treating a Child’s Symptoms Without Medicine

When your child has a cough or fever, it’s only natural that you want to help them feel better. If it were you who was under the weather, you might reach for an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. But for kids, certain OTC medicines can be dangerous. So how can you help your little one find relief until their illness goes away?


Why not OTC medicines?

Some OTC medicines can have serious side effects for children, such as slowed breathing. This is particularly true with cold and cough medicines. It’s possible for kids to accidentally overdose if they get more than the recommended dose or take the medicine too often.

The FDA does not recommend giving children younger than age 2 any OTC medicines that treat cold or cough symptoms. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against these medicines for anyone younger than age 6. But even if your kids are older, talk with their pediatrician before giving them a medicine, especially for the first time.

How to treat a cold

Medicines don’t make a cold go away any faster—they just ease the symptoms. Fortunately, there are other ways to help kids feel more comfortable when they’re sick. These include:

  • Fluids. Drinking plenty of liquids keeps your kids hydrated. This thins the body’s mucus, making it easier for them to cough and blow their nose. Plus, warm beverages can soothe sore throats.

  • Nasal suctioning with a bulb syringe. This is a great way to clear a runny nose for children younger than 1 year old. Encourage older kids to blow their nose. 

  • A cool-mist humidifier. Using this machine can lessen congestion and help kids breathe better. (Avoid warm-mist humidifiers, which can cause nasal passages to swell.) 

  • Saline nose drops or spray. These products keep the inside of the nose moist, which helps avoid stuffiness. Or if your child’s already congested, use drops or spray to loosen up dried mucus. Then, have them blow their nose.  

Keep in mind though, symptoms only need to be treated if they’re disrupting your child’s sleep or making them feel uncomfortable. If you have any questions, always reach out to your child’s pediatrician.



Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rina Lazebnik, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2023
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