5 Things Every Parent Needs To Know About Treating Colds

Ahh, it’s winter and it’s cold and flu season! In the first 2 years of life, children can get up to 8-10 colds or even more if they have school-aged siblings or attend daycare. Dr. Stephanie Pope, a mom and Pediatrician at Mary’s Center, says this is healthy and normal. Dr. Pope answers your questions and shares tips for managing cold symptoms in cranky congested children so your family can get a restful night's sleep.

Are Over The Counter Cold Medicines Safe For Babies And Toddlers?

No.In 2008 the Food and Drug Administration issued guidelines recommending NOT to give cold medicines to children under 2 years old. This is due to reports of serious side effects including convulsions, rapid heart rate and deaths. Each year 20,000 calls to poison control centers and 7,000 pediatric emergency room visits are linked to children taking cold medicine. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend over the counter cold medicines in children under 4 years old.

Do Over The Counter Cold Medicines Work In Older Children 2-11 Years Old?

No.The average cold virus lasts 7 to 14 days. Cold medicines in general do not shorten the time your child will be ill and often do not relieve symptoms. Save your money! Avoid medications with more than 1 active ingredient in young children because the risk of side effects increases. For fevers, giving acetaminophen (sold under commercial names such as Tylenol) to children over 2 months old and ibuprofen to children over 6 months is safe as well, but these medicines only work for pain and fever. In teenagers and young adults, decongestants and cough medicines may be more effective than in younger children, but studies on this are ongoing.

Are There Natural Or Safe Home Remedies For Children With Colds?

Yes! Here are some suggestions:

Honey - For children over 1 year old, honey is a delicious and scientifically effective treatment.

Suctioning - Placing 2-3 drops of salt water (nasal saline) inside your child’s nose up to 3 times a day breaks up congestion and makes mucous easier to remove with bulb suction and other nasal suction devices (explore the baby products aisles!)

Humidity - Cool mist humidifiers work to break up congestion. Warm mist humidifiers are discouraged due to increased risk of mold growth in those devices and risk of burns.

Menthol – Sold under brand names like Vicks Vapor Rub, menthol on the chest is safe in children over 2 years old but care should be taken to prevent children from eating or ingesting this medication.

Fluids and Rest – Don’t forget simple remedies such as sleeping, napping, and drinking plenty of warm liquids to prevent dehydration.

child sleeping

How Can I Prevent My Child From Getting Sick?

There is no medical cure or vaccine for the common cold. Hand washing and discouraging young children from sharing cups and utensils with siblings and other children is great for prevention.

When Should My Child See A Doctor?

Consult your doctor when you see these serious signs while caring for your sick child:

- Widening of the nostrils and rapid breathing (as if your child is exercising, yet he or she is at rest)

- Fevers that do not respond to acetaminophen or ibuprofen

- Fever to 100.4°F or higher for 2 consecutive days or more (or any fever at all if your child is under 2 months old)

- High fevers to 104°F

- Difficulty drinking liquids or sucking from a bottle or nipple because of rapid breathing/coughing

- High-pitched or whistling noises when inhaling or exhaling (wheezing/stridor)

- Few wet diapers (less than 4 in 24 hours) or decreasing urine output

Dr Pope has had every cold her son has brought home from daycare and is happy to give her very strong opinion on her favorite commercially available “snot sucker” or answer more questions at the Mary’s Center office on Ontario Road in Adams Morgan, DC. To make an appointment with Dr. Pope, or any of the caring and highly-qualified providers and our other locations in DC or Maryland, please call 1-844-796-2797. You can also request an appointment online.

Dr. Stephanie Pope, pediatricianAbout Stephanie Pope, MD

Dr. Stephanie Pope holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University. She completed medical school at the University of Maryland and her pediatric residency at Georgetown University in 2010. She especially enjoys working with children with special health care needs and adolescents. She speaks English and Spanish. Dr. Pope says: "I am grateful that I can work as part of a large experienced multi-disciplinary team to help patients overcome social and economic barriers to accessing quality health care with dignity. It is absolutely possible to attain social change through medicine and good health". In her free time, Dr. Pope enjoys mentoring students, exploring museums with her son and husband, experiencing new cultures, science fiction and pupusas.


  1. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2009
  2. Moyer, Melinda Wenner “Homeopathic cold and cough “medicines” for children don’t work. So don’t buy them.” Slate. Feb 3 2015.
  3. De Sutter AIM, Saraswat A, van Driel ML. Antihistamines for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD009345. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009345.pub2
  4. “Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Medicines to Kids” Nov 4 2016.


Education - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.