KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — When your child is coughing and so miserable they can’t sleep, you just want to help them feel better. But, before reaching into the medicine cabinet, it’s important to know even over-the-counter medications are serious medicines and can cause serious side effects.

Dr. Ryan Redman, emergency room director at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, stopped by the WATE 6 On Your Side studios to share more about cold medicine safety.

Is cough medicine safe for my child?

Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines can cause serious side effects in young children & there is no proof that they actually help.


  • Under 4 years of age- NEVER use cough and cold medicines.
  • Ages 4 to 6 years- only use if recommended by your child’s pediatrician.
  • After 6 years of age- the medicines are safe to use, but follow the dosage instructions on the package.

What are some safety basics we need to know?

  • Read the label every time – don’t try to remember the correct dose, be sure you clearly understand how much to give and when to give another dose.
  • Know the “active ingredient” in your child’s medicine.
  • This is what makes the medicine work & is the top listed ingredient. The same active ingredient can be found in many different medicines & you don’t want to give a double dose- ex. Cold medication & headache meds may have same active ingredient.
  • Give the right medicine, in the right amount, to your child (Not all meds are right for an infant or child. The same brand can be sold in many different strengths. NEVER give a child a smaller dose of an adult medicine- they are not tiny adults. Don’t give medicine in a spoon).
  • Call Poison Help if overdose is suspected 1-800-222-1222.
  • Great tip- parents put this number in your cell phone so you always have it with you.

What should parents not do?

  • Never use leftover medications
  • Never give your child medication that has been prescribed to someone else
  • Never give a child medication meant for adults
  • Never give honey to infants it can cause infantile botulism
  • Don’t give a child aspirin

What home remedies work well?

Doctors say that simple home remedies, such as giving a child plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, using a bulb syringe for a runny nose or a warm mist shower — can be helpful.

Also – treatment isn’t always needed.

Colds just need to run their course. It’s important to always consult a pediatrician before giving any medication, even over-the-counter medicine.

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