Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2019;100(5):online

See related article on treatment of the common cold

What should I do if my child has a cold?

Most colds don't cause serious illness and will get better over time. Cold symptoms can be treated with certain over-the-counter medicines, but some of these should not be used in young children. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before giving your child over-the-counter cold medicine.

What treatments are helpful for children?

  • Over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen (one brand: Children's Tylenol) and ibuprofen (one brand: Children's Motrin) can help with fever and discomfort. Refer to the package insert for dosing instructions.

  • Honey helps with cough, but it shouldn't be used in children younger than one year.

  • Saline nose spray helps a runny or stuffy nose.

  • An herbal medicine called Pelargonium sidoides (one brand: Umcka Coldcare) may help with cough and can help your child breathe better through the nose.

  • Menthol rub (one brand: Vick's VapoRub) helps with cough and can help your child breathe better through the nose. But it has a strong smell that some children don't like. It can be used for children two years and older.

What treatments are not helpful for children?

  • Antibiotics are not helpful because they don't kill viruses. Cold symptoms are almost always caused by viruses.

  • Codeine

  • Echinacea (ek-eh-NAY-shuh)

  • Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines

  • Steam

  • Steroid nose sprays (one brand: Flonase)

  • Vitamin D

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