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How to Treat a Kid's Cold Without Medication

Tips for Surviving Those Sick Days

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Updated April 09, 2014

Do you know how to treat a kid's cold? Now that medications for cold and cough have been taken off the market for children under 4, treating your kid's cold may become a little more difficult.

Here, tips on treating your kid's cold without cold medications.

Use Saline Drops/Spray

One of the safest and most effective ways to treat a kid's cold is to use nasal saline spray. Saline drops or spray can be used for children and adults of all ages -- even newborns. Saline contains no medication; it is simply a saltwater solution, and it helps to loosen and thin secretions in the nose, making it easier to breathe.

If you are using saline drops in an infant or young child, place a couple of drops in one nostril, suction the nostril using a bulb syringe, then repeat on the other side. Do this judiciously, though -- overly aggressive suctioning in infants can lead to inflammation and even slight bleeding. If you are using the drops or spray in an older child or adult, follow the instructions on the bottle.

Run a Humidifier

In the colder months, when most people tend to get colds, the air is dry because humidity is lower outside and heaters are running inside. Using a humidifier in your child's room when he is sleeping will help put moisture in the air, moistening the nasal passages and helping to loosen secretions.

Cool mist humidifiers are recommended for use in children's rooms because they do not cause burns like warm mist humidifiers can. However, you have to be sure to clean the humidifier well every day to prevent mold and mildew growth.

How to Clean a Humidifier

Allow for Adequate Rest

Rest is one of the most important ways we help our bodies recover when we are sick. This is also important for kids, and they are much better at listening to their bodies than we adults are. Children usually won't play if they don't feel like it. While it's important to make sure your child has adequate rest time when he is sick, you don't have to force him to stay in bed. Keeping him home from school or activities if he has a fever or is contagious is usually enough.

Push the Fluids

Staying hydrated is always important, but even more so when you (or your child) are sick. Make sure your child drinks plenty, but avoid offering sodas. The best choices are water, juice or electrolyte-rich drinks, such as Gatorade or Pedialyte. If your child doesn't feel like eating when she is sick, don't worry about it. Unless she is an infant, it won't hurt her to not eat for a day or two as long as she is still drinking and stays hydrated.

Watch for More Serious Symptoms

A cold is usually pretty minor and doesn't require a visit to the doctor, but it can turn into something more serious. When do you know that your child's illness is more severe than just a common cold?

Start by looking at his breathing. If he seems to be having any difficulty breathing, you need to have him seen by a healthcare provider. Also, if he has a cough that worsens or doesn't go away after about a week, has persistent fever, fatigue or signs of dehydration (decreased urine), he should be seen. Any time cold symptoms last for more than about 10 days, a visit to his healthcare provider is warranted.

Meds for Fever Still Okay

One of the most confusing parts of all of these changes in kid's medications is knowing which ones are safe and which ones are not. Basically, if your child is under 4 years old, the only over-the-counter medications she should get are for pain or fever. This would include plain Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen). Just make sure the one you buy does not include any cold or cough medication in it.

Sources

"Common Cold." KidsHealth Nov 07. Nemours Foundation. 25 Oct 08.
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