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Soothing your child’s cold

More than 100 different viruses cause colds. No wonder a vaccine for your child's cold does not exist yet! And because viruses cause colds, antibiotics aren't effective against them. So treatment for a child's cold or a child's sore throat is usually a matter of easing symptoms with self-care and over-the-counter children's cold medicines.

First steps for relieving your child's cold symptoms

For a child's cold, often the simplest solutions are the best: rest, fluids and keeping the air moist, with a humidifier if necessary. Then let your child's cold run its course.

Drinking extra fluids thins mucus, helping it to drain. Drinking fluids can also ease a child's sore throat. Try a variety of fluids such as warm water or tea with lemon and honey (never give honey to a child under one year old), ice lollies or soup.

Moist, warm air also improves draining and breathing and can ease a dry, sore throat.

What about children's cold medicines?

If rest, fluids and other self-care steps don't make your child comfortable, especially at night, should you try over-the-counter (OTC) children's cold medicine? They're not all the same, and they can contain a variety of ingredients, so be sure to read labels carefully. If you have any questions about OTC children's cold medicine, be sure to ask the pharmacist or GP.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has recommended that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines shouldn't be given to children under the age of six. This is due to the possibility of unwanted side effects like allergies, sleep issues or hallucinations.

Below are several types of cough medications, along with suggestions for relieving the same symptoms naturally.

Decongestants

Saline (saltwater) nose drops and sprays can help clear nasal passages and reduce congestion. They are just as effective as decongestants and have no side effects.

Oral decongestants reduce congestion and mucus production. Common side effects include sleeplessness or hyperactivity, so avoid giving oral decongestants at bedtime. Unfortunately, these medications rarely work for more than an hour or two.

Antihistamines are present in some cold medicines, and can help relieve symptoms related to inflammation. They may cause sleepiness and a dry mouth.

Cough expectorants may help thin mucus, allowing your child to cough it up more easily. Your child needs to drink a lot of water while taking a cough expectorant for it to work. Some research suggests that these medicines may work only when given in much larger doses than are currently considered safe.

Warm tea or water with honey and lemon works just as well as cough expectorants to soothe inflamed throat membranes. Warm liquids can also reduce the “tickle in the throat” and dry cough that result from post-nasal drip.

Steam, coupled with drinking plenty of fluids, is an effective expectorant. Be extremely careful if you want to try steam so you don't burn your child accidentally. Ask your pharmacist for specific directions and advice.

Cough suppressant medication is rarely the best solution for a cough. Coughing is a natural defence mechanism that allows the lungs to clear mucus - and with it, some of the infecting virus. Although a cough can be troublesome and keep a child awake at night, cough suppressants don't help clear mucus.

Fluids and humidity may be more effective in easing symptoms while allowing the lungs to continue to clear mucus.

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