Tips For Treating Kids

A sick child can be frustrating, but by using these tips you can help get your little one back to their healthy self.

Care With OTC Drugs

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted its ban on children’s over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicines, it advises parents to take extreme caution when considering their use. In general, the FDA recommends avoiding OTC for children under the age of six. For younger children, the FDA recommends no OTC meds at all, advice that is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  

A 2007 FDA report found 123 child deaths attributed to OTC decongestants and antihistamines since 1969, mostly children under two. Most pediatricians currently recommend other cold and flu remedies instead of OTC medications, fearing possible side effects like hyperactivity and heart palpitations. Another concern is that OTC cold and flu medications may worsen asthma symptoms.

The American medical journal Pediatrics reports that more than 50 percent of adults misinterpret the child dosing instructions on OTC medications, so parents should be vigilant in using OTC medications on children.   

Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Infirmary in Cleveland, said all children under age two should see a pediatrician for any sickness, including the common cold. 

“Parents should reach out to their pediatricians, even for minor problems,” he said. “In cases of cold and flu, I ask parents to call if their children have high fevers, are wheezing, or if their symptoms are worsening. Any breathing trouble is a concern.” 

For older children, parents should contact pediatricians if their child has a fever of 103?F or greater. That could be a sign that he or she needs an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection. Generally speaking, a child’s cold symptoms should improve in about one week. If fever presents with a rash or any neurological symptoms, however, see a doctor immediately.

Safe and Effective Alternatives

Fortunately, parents have plenty of other options to comfort a sick child.

Dr. Esper advises keeping children at home until a fever subsides.

“Generally, the first days of illness are the worst. That is when the germ load is highest, thus the highest rate of transmission,” he said. “If there was no fever to begin with, as is often the case with vomiting and/or diarrhea, then keep children at home until symptoms substantially improve.”


To relieve fever in babies younger than six months, use low-dose acetaminophen, such as Tylenol or other brands. 

Older children may be given acetaminophen or ibuprofen, such as Advil. A child should never be given aspirin as its use has been associated with a rare condition called Reye’s syndrome.

It’s also extremely important for children with fevers to stay well hydrated. If they won’t drink water or other clear liquids, try popsicles and/or Pedialyte. Warm soups and clear broths are also great choices.  

Nasal and Chest Congestion

General cold symptoms like nasal or chest congestion should be monitored closely. 

A cool-mist humidifier in the child’s bedroom may help labored breathing. Follow the manufacturer’s directions and clean and/or replace the water daily to avoid mold, which can aggravate symptoms. Likewise, saline nose drops are useful to relieve nasal inflammation.

A suction bulb is a safe and effective way of removing mucus from the nostrils of a baby. Fussy babies and even older children often benefit from warm baths, as the steam brings at least temporary relief to clogged nasal passages. 

Older children may feel slight improvement and sleep better after a topical vapor rub is applied to their chests.

A steaming bowl of chicken soup can also help relieve congestion. It’s also known to help the body’s white blood cells combat infection.        


A chronic cough can worry parents easily, but it is usually caused by post-nasal drip, or mucus draining from the nasal cavity into the back of the throat.

Keep an eye on your child’s mucus, since doctors will ask you about its frequency and color. (Yellow-tinged or otherwise discolored mucus is often a sign of infection.)  

For children older than one year, administering a half to a full teaspoon of honey at bedtime may also help. Ordinary cough drops are useful for children four years or older. 

Warm tea with honey and even warm lemonade or lemon-infused water can deliver much-needed hydration as well as vitamin C.

Older children may also benefit from gargling salt water for stubborn sore throat pain.     

Preventative Care

Dr. Esper advises parents to remember the importance of good hygiene.

“Frequent hand washing, either with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers, is among the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness,” he said. “Germs on your hands infect when touching the eyes, nose, or mouth, so the best time to wash your hands is before eating, preparing food, placing contact lenses, or other similar tasks. Washing your hands after any event that places germs onto your hands, such as sneezing, using the bathroom, working outdoors, or coming into contact with animals is also advisable.”

The following list contains additional tips to improve a child’s good health:

  • provide a diet that provides nutrition from food, not vitamin supplements
  • get adequate sleep and don’t over-schedule your child
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • get regular exercise to boost the immune system   
  • children six months of age or older should get a flu vaccine     

If you feel that you must resort to OTC meds, use caution and consult with your child’s pediatrician about dosing instructions.