Which Cold Medications Are Safe For Children?

Which medications can your child take?. Tetra Images/Getty Images

Although a lot of medications are available and marketed for children to treat their cold and flu symptoms, few of them are actually recommended by health care providers. 

In 2007, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) withdrew all over the counter cold and cough medications that were labeled for infants and intended for children under the age of 2. They made this decision based on concerns that these medications have harmful side effects and did not provide the relief they claimed.


Children Under 2

Currently, only pain reliever/fever reducers are recommended for children under 2. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is safe for children over 2 months old and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) is safe for children over 6 months old. Check with your child's pediatrician for appropriate dosing information for these medications based on your child's age and weight. 

Children Under 4

Most healthcare providers and the American Academy of Pediatrics do not recommend any over the counter cold or cough medications for children under age 4. 

Studies have shown these medications are not effective in young children and they sometimes cause harmful or dangerous side effects. 

An "exception" to this would be allergy medications. If used for seasonal allergies or allergic reactions, diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is safe for children over 6 months old and loratidine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) are safe for children over 2.

These medications are not effective for children or adults of any age when used for cold symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose.

Children Over 4 

A review of multiple studies by the Cochrane Review showed no benefit - or harm - from using over the counter cold and cough medications in children or adults.


However, it's important to consider that your child may experience side effects if you choose to give these medications. Significant or serious side effects are more likely to be caused by antihistamines and antitussives (cough suppressants).

Children Over 12

Most over the counter medications are safe for children over the age of 12. However, aspirin and aspirin-containing products (such as Pepto-Bismol) should not be given to anyone under the age of 18 unless specifically instructed by her doctor. The use of aspirin in children has been linked to a rare but serious condition called Reye syndrome. 

Things to Consider Regardless of Age

If you are considering giving your child over the counter cold or cough medications, talk to her doctor about which ones may be right for her symptoms. Always be sure to read the labels and look at active ingredients so you aren't giving multiple medications that contain the same ingredients. Even well-meaning parents can easily overdose their kids by giving more than one medication without knowing exactly what is in each one.


When your child is sick, also consider ways that you can make him feel better without the use of medications. 

Remember that colds are self-limiting. Although kids get a lot of them, they will go away on their own within about a week. If you have concerns that your child has developed another illness or has something more serious than a cold, consult his Pediatrician. 


Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. "Over the Counter (OTC) Medications for Acute Cough in Children and Adults in the Community". 24 Nov 14. Cochrane Review. Cochrane Library. 27 Apr 15. 

"How to Manage Colds and Flu". Safety & Prevention. HealthyChildren.org. 10 Nov 14. Consumer Reports in cooperation with the American Academy of Pediatrics. 27 Apr 15. 

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