How to treat coughs and colds in children
There has been concern expressed about the safety and usefulness of treating coughs and colds in children. Most cough and cold treatments are no longer regarded as being suitable for children under the age of six; but that is little comfort when your child is unwell and you want to ease their symptoms so they and the family can recover.
Children get colds, often up to ten times a year, and there is no specific treatment for the viruses that cause these infections, but there are things that you can do that will help to relieve some of the symptoms in your children.
Ensure that your child is well hydrated, keep giving them whatever fluids they normally drink, and make sure that water and other cool fluids are easily available if they are not breastfed. Regular milk and diluted fruit juices are suitable, or you could offer oral rehydration fluids. Continue to offer breast milk, and supplementary water such if your child is still breast fed.
Children older than 12 months old may be given a little honey to sooth a dry cough or scratchy throat, if they have had honey before with no ill effects. The very young are advised not to be given honey, so cool soothing foods such as ice blocks made from diluted juice, yoghurt ice cream and custards may be used instead.
Nasal and chest congestion causes considerable distress as the nasal and air passages in children are smaller and easily blocked up by dried secretions. This is particularly important in babies, as they breathe through their nose not their mouth, so the air flow must not be impeded by gummy nasal congestion. Saline drops and sprays for older children are available and will moisturise and soothe irritated nasal passages and help to flush out the nostrils.
Treating fever and temperature with paracetamol is commonly advised. Ensure that the dose you use is correct for the age and weight of your child, that they are not given a dose any more than four times in any 24 hour period, and no closer than every four hours. It is helpful to store an accurate medicine measure with the paracetamol, so that you can measure out a correct dose to treat your child when they and you are tired and distressed, especially in the middle of the night.
If your child is unable to be soothed by these treatments, if they are weak, their breath is whistling or wheezy, if they are tugging at their ear or their fever is not responding to treatment then see a doctor immediately. Children get very sick very quickly, and they appear to recover quickly as well.
If you are concerned about what to do if you or your children get a cold or of any symptoms that they may have, your community pharmacist can advise you of what is suitable, how to lessen any symptoms and the correct doses of any treatments that are appropriate for you and your family.