It’s 1:30pm. A cold gust whips through the magazines by the door as you dash inside the deserted corner drugstore, praying the clerk won’t notice that you’re sporting pajama pants underneath your jacket. You scurry for the Cough & Cold Remedies aisle, frantically searching for an antidote to the monster holding your whole household hostage: a hacking, sleepless toddler with a late winter cold. To your horror, you find not a single product for children under the age of 2.
Cough and cold remedies for babies and young children were removed from shelves late last year after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised questions about their safety and effectiveness. The margin for error with these medications is high: Mom and Dad overlap doses without realizing it; caregivers dose children without informing parents; tired parents give two different remedies without realizing they don’t mix. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1,519 children under age 2 wound up in emergency rooms in 2004 and 2005 for overdoses and bad reactions, and three babies died from the medications in 2005.
“There is no available evidence that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are effective for children under age 12,” explains Dr. Early Denison, a pediatrician with Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. “Dosage information for these cough and cold medicines is based on adult experience. However, studies show (that children’s) bodies handle the medications differently.”
Based on this lack of evidence, the FDA is currently considering taking cough and cold medicines for children between 2 and 5 off the shelves, with medicines for the 6-11 bracket under review as well. A decision on these age ranges is expected some time this month.
How to Treat Your Little Patient
In the meantime, what’s the harried parent of a sleepless toddler who has a clogged-up nose or hacking cough supposed to do?
In the absence of drugstore panaceas, natural remedies are back in the spotlight. A recent posting on WebMD.com cites buckwheat honey as an effective cough suppressant, and a recent Czech study shows saline nose spray is an effective remedy for winter colds.
Savvy parents are turning to both modern devices and ancient remedies when confronted with stuffy-nosed tots. The Nosefrida (an alternative to traditional nasal syringe bulbs) uses a suction tube against (not inside) your child’s nose to gently draw mucus out. (A filter blocks any ickies from reaching your mouth.)
A neti pot is an ancient method of clearing the nose and sinuses. Just pour warm salt water from one side of the nose through to the other, clearing mucus and relieving dryness and itching. You’ll find them at most health food stores and many drug stores.
Cool-mist humidifiers and steam vaporizers both increase the humidity in the air and can ease congestion, nosebleeds and even dry skin, according to Dr. Urmesh Shah, a pediatrician with the Parkland Health System in Dallas. And, a few minutes in a steamy bathroom with the shower running can do wonders to loosen congestion.
And finally, for asthma or other respiratory illnesses, there’s the KidO’s Bear. Invented by a Plano paramedic and a Dallas physician, the Bear is especially helpful with frightened children who need emergency oxygen or medication via an oxygen mask.
Local Expert Gives Top Tips for Coughs and Colds
When little ones have trouble sleeping through a nasty cough or cold, try these tips from Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas pediatrician Dr. Early Denison.
1. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. The body can fight off infections best when well rested.
2. Nasal saline drops and spray can be very effective in relieving congestion in children. If a young child is having trouble breathing out of their nose, a bulb suction can be used in conjunction with the saline to remove the secretions. Suction should be done before eating and sleeping because these are the times the child is most dependent on breathing through the nose.
3. Make sure your child drinks lots of fluids. Staying well-hydrated will keep the lining of the nose moist and help loosen the secretions.
4. Use a humidifier to decrease irritation in the lungs and therefore decrease cough. However, be sure to clean the humidifier regularly according to the manufacturer instructions to prevent mold formation. Cool mist humidifiers are recommended to prevent accidental burns.
5. Elevate the head of the bed with books or something similar. Elevating the child’s head reduces the amount of secretions that drain to the back of the throat and trigger coughing.
6. Use Tylenol or Ibuprofen for fever or discomfort. Do not use ibuprofen in children less than 6 months.
7. Steam from a hot shower can relieve congestion, as well.
8. Put Vaseline under the nose to relieve any rawness that develops.