Every parent of a sick child wants to do whatever possible to make the child feel better. Most cold and flu-like illnesses in children are caused by viruses which will be cured by the child’s own immune system. Many over the counter cold medications for children have been withdrawn for safety reasons. The Federal Drug Administration now warns against giving children younger than 4 years any over the counter medications other than pain and fever relievers.

Here are my suggestions for symptomatic relief of your child’s cold or flu-like illness:

  1. Encourage the child to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and to help thin out mucus. Contrary to popular opinion milk has not been proven to increase mucous or to thicken it.

  2. Fever or pain can be controlled using either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil) giving accurate and consistent doses every six hours.

  3. Saline irrigations:  for infants, use rubber bulb suction with saline nose drops to remove mucus. A saline nose spray can be used for older children.

  4. Use a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer in the child’s room. To prevent contamination, the water should be replaced daily and the machine cleansed regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Keep indoor relative humidity at about 40 percent to 50 percent.

  5. If a medication such as Tylenol or Advil is given, I do not advise the use of household silverware spoons for dose measurement. Teaspoons found in our kitchens can vary in size and should only be used for eating, not for measuring liquid medication. Proper measuring devices using units of milliliters usually come with the medicine or can be obtained from the pharmacist.

  6. Honey can relieve cough by increasing saliva which coats the throat and relieves irritation. Suggested doses are half a teaspoon for children between 1-5 years, 1 teaspoon for children 6-11 years and 2 teaspoons for children 12 years and older. Do not give honey to a child younger than one year of age.

See your health care provider immediately for:

  • a child under three months of age with any fever 

  • a child younger than 2 years with a fever that lasts longer than two to three days

  • a child who complains of an earache or a severe sore throat 

  • a child who has thick green nasal discharge for more than one week

  •  mild illness symptoms that are not improving in seven to ten days

  • any child who, in your opinion, seems very ill 

Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is a retired urgent-care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view his previous columns on his website, valleydoctor.wordpress.com, or email him at valleydoctor@sbcglobal.net.


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