KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A coughing child can be tough to comfort and most parents just want to help them feel better. But, before reaching into the medicine cabinet, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital says it’s important to know even over-the-counter medications can have unpleasant side effects.

Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines can cause serious side effects in young children and there is no proof that they actually help according to Children’s Hospital. The hospital says that treatment is not always needed as colds often just need to run their course.

For children under 4 years of age, ETCH says to never use cold medicines. For ages 4 to 6 years, they say to only use it if recommended by your child’s pediatrician. Finally, for children over 6 years old, the medicines are safe to use but ETCH reminds parents to follow the dosage instructions on the package.

Safety Basics

  • Always Read and Follow Directions on the label
    • Read 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 and is the top listed ingredient. The same active ingredient can be found in many different medicines and you don’t want to give a double dose
    • Ex: Cold medication and headache medication may have the same active ingredients
  • 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
    • ETCH sugguests parents saving this number in your cell phone so you always have it with you

What NOT to 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
  • Don’t give a child aspirin
    • According to the CDC it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a rare but very serious illness that harms the liver and brain.

Home Remedies

  • Give child plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Use a bulb syringe for a runny nose
  • A warm mist shower can be helpful
Infographic: CDC

When to seek medical care

  • Difficulty breathing or fast breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Fever that lasts longer than 4 days
  • Symptoms that last more than 10 days without improvement
  • Symptoms, such as fever or cough, that improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

ETCH reminds parents that it’s important to always consult a pediatrician before giving any medication, even OTC medicine.