Why can’t you give cough medicine to a young child?

We are currently experiencing the 4th recent bought of sickness in the household – a lovely, bouncing effect that attacks each and every member of the family. My youngest at only 4 years old, is suffering large, body heaving coughing fits that result in vomiting, accompanied by yet another ear infection. Fever, chills, aches – the works. You name it, she’s got it, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.

My heart hurts as I listen to her hack and wheeze, even with the ever present Vicks on her chest, and humidifier running in her room. The sound hits that visceral part of me that is desperate to find a way to just make her feel better… especially at 3am when I’m cleaning up yet another dose of vomit, courtesy of a coughing fit that woke the entire household. She is already on antibiotics for her ear infection, but it’s her cough that cuts my soul and makes me long for the cough medicine I know I can’t give her.

I distinctly remember the nasty, cherry flavor of the cough medicine my parents would ply me with whenever I suffered my own cough as a kid, and I remember that it worked, sometimes. Yet modern parents are denied that crutch and I started wondering why.

It turns out, there are some very good reasons.  Back in the early 2000’s, warnings were being sounded that while rare, some of the active ingredients in children’s cold and cough medicine could lead to seizures, coma or even death. By 2007, manufacturers bowed to public and professional pressure, voluntarily recalling all medications marketed to children under 2 years of age. Taking it a step further, they also relabeled packaging to read for “ages 4+ only”.

The questionable ingredients in children’s cough medicine are:

Children's cold and cough medicine infograph
Common ingredients in children’s cold medicines and their reactions

While current rules allow labeling for children ages 4 and up, the FDA recommends no child under 6 receive be given any medication with the above ingredients.

Lacking a medicinal alternative, there are still some ways to ease your child’s cough – and help both of you get some sleep.

Alternatives to cough medicine
Alternative ways to help children without cough medicine

Colds and coughs are never easy – for anyone. The best treatment seems to be time and patience… lots of time and patience. *sigh*

What home remedies can you offer to help our littlest ones? Leave a comment and let me know!

5 thoughts on “Why can’t you give cough medicine to a young child?

  1. A tablespoon of honey. Or even warm water with honey and lemon. You can repeat as much as necessary! Helps hydrate too!

    1. I have peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary on hand. We put a little in the humidifier – but I am not sure it helped. I am hesitate to put any on her skin, but I am open to suggestions on how to use them effectively.

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