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Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies?


Oral over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines can cause serious harm to young children. The risks of using these medicines is more than any help the medicines might have in reducing cold symptoms.

From ages 4 to 6 years, cough medicine should be used only if recommended by your child's doctor. After age 6 years, the medicines are safe to use, but follow the instructions on the package about the right amount of medication to give. Luckily, you can easily treat cough s and colds in young children without these cough and cold medicines.

Home Remedies

A good home remedy is safe, does not cost a lot, and can help your child feel better. They are also found in almost every home. 

Here is how you can treat your child's symptoms with home remedies:

  • Runny nose: 

    • Suction (with something like a bulb syringe) to pull out the liquid out of your child's nose or ask your child to blow his or her nose. When your child's nose runs like a faucet, it's getting rid of viruses.

    • Antihistamines (like loratadine, cetirizine, fexofenadine) do not help the runny nose that comes with a cold. However, they are useful if the runny nose is caused by allergies (also called hay fever).

  • Blocked nose: 

    • Use nasal (nose) washes.

    • Use salt water (saline) nose spray or drops to loosen up dried mucus, followed by asking your child to blow his or her nose or by sucking the liquid from the nose with a bulb syringe. If you do not have nose spray or drops, warm water will work fine.

    • Put 2 to 3 drops in the opening of each nose (nostril). Do this one side at a time. Then suck out the liquid or have your child blow his or her nose. Teens can just splash warm water into their nose. Keep doing the nasal washes until what comes out of the nose is clear.

    • Do washes whenever your child can't breathe through the nose. For infants who bottlefeed or breastfeed, use nose drops before feedings.

    • You can buy saline nose drops and sprays in a pharmacy without a prescription. To make your own, add 2 mL of table salt to 240 mL of warm tap water.

  • Sticky, stubborn mucus:

    • Use a wet cotton swab to get rid of sticky mucus.

  • Coughing: 

    • For children 3 months to 1 year of age: Give warm, clear fluids (like warm water or apple juice). Give 5 to 15 mL, 4 times a day when your child is coughing. Do not give honey because this can cause a sickness called infantile botulism . If your child is younger than 3 months, see your child's doctor.

    • For children 1 year and older: Use honey, 2 to 5 mL, as needed. The honey thins the mucus and loosens the cough. (If you do not have honey, you can use corn syrup.) Recent research has shown that honey is better than store-bought cough syrups at reducing how often coughing happens and how bad coughing is at night.

    • For children 2 years and older: Rub a thick layer of a mentholated rub on the skin over the chest and neck (over the throat). As with all medicines, once you are done putting the medicine on your child, put it up and away, out of the reach of children.

  • Coughing fits or spasms: 

    • Have your child sit in the bathroom and breathe the warm mist from a shower.

  • Liquids:

    • Try to make sure your child is drinking water and other liquids. When there is enough water in the body, the mucus the body makes becomes thinner, making it easier to cough and blow the nose.

  • Humidity (amount of water in the air):

    • If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier. Moist air keeps mucus in the nose from drying up and makes the airway less dry. Running a warm shower for a while can also help the air be less dry.

Treatment Is Not Always Needed

  • If cold symptoms are not bothering your child, he or she doesn't need medicine or home remedies. Many children with a cough or a stuffy nose are happy, play normally, and sleep well.

  • Only treat symptoms if they make your child uncomfortable, has trouble sleeping, or the cough is really bothersome (e.g., a hacking cough).

  • Because fevers help your child's body fight infections, only treat a fever if it slows your child down or causes discomfort. This doesn't usually happen until your child's temperature reaches 102°F (39°C) or higher.

  • If needed, acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) can be safely used to treat fever or pain.


If treatment is needed for coughs and colds, home remedies may work better than medicines.

Additional Information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2018)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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