Cough Medicine for Infants

Infants aren’t fun when they are sick. It may make you nervous to see your baby with a runny and congested nose. A runny nose is actually part of clearing germs from the body, but can make your little one uncomfortable and fussy. Runny noses lead to coughing, especially at night. Moms tend to wonder if there is cough medicine for infants. It is common to think that a little cough or cold medicine will help your baby feel better, but some are actually unsafe to use. Read on to learn about using cough and cold medicine in babies.

Safety Issues with Cough Medicine for Infants

At first the recommendation was never use cough or cold medicine in children under the age of six. There are new recommendations by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) that states not to use over-the-counter cough or cold medicines in children under the age of two.

It is not recommended to give babies and kids under the age of two any cough and cold medicines containing certain things because it can cause serious side-effects including increased heart rate, lowered level of consciousness, seizures, and even death. They can also slow breathing rates and cause apnea.

There are certain “natural” preparations that are safe for use in infants with the exception of those containing honey for infants less than one-year of age. Honey can cause infant botulism. Always check your labels. The ingredients in cough medicine for infants to watch out for are:

  • Diphenhydramine (antihistamine that causes sleepiness)
  • Dextromethorphan (cough suppressant and central nervous system depressant, which can cause death)
  • Pseudoephedrine (stimulant that can raise the heart rate and cause excitability)
  • Acetaminophen (pain reliever that can injure the liver if taken in high doses. Only dangerous if used stand-alone and combined with doses in cold products)
  • Chlorpheniramine maleate (antihistamine used for runny noses and congestion. Can cause drowsiness, dizziness, or excitability in some children)
  • Phenylephrine (stimulant/decongestant that can cause a rapid heart rate and dizziness)

While these ingredients can be dangerous when used alone, the risks are increased when used in combination with each other. These are labeled as “children’s cough and cold formula,” and “children’s flu relief.” Again, check your labels and avoid these ingredients for infants and children. You can always ask your pharmacist to help you understand over-the-counter medications better.

Over-the-Counter Cough Medicine for Infants

Note: Do not give honey to babies less than one-year of age. Honey can cause infantile botulism and may be life threatening. Some preparations contain honey to help relieve throat discomfort.

There are some over-the-counter cough medicines that are safe for use in infants. Always check with your pediatrician before using them. These include:

  1. Homeopathic Cold Tables (Hylands™) – These use homeopathic ingredients and dissolve in the mouth. They are not recommended for babies less than six months old. There are no warnings associated with homeopathic remedies.
  2. Zarbee’s™ Baby Cough and Mucous Reducer – All natural ingredients with no warnings. Recommended for ages 2 months and up.
  3. Saline Nose Drops (Little Noses™) – Saline only nose drops to help loosen secretions. Safe for babies and children of any age.
  4. Cough and Immune Support (Little Remedies™) – This remedy does contain honey, so it should not be used in infants less than one-year of age.
  5. Homeopathic Cold and Mucous Relief (Similasan™) – Safe ingredients for the relief of colds and excess mucous. Recommended for toddlers age 2 and up.

Safe Home Remedies for Infant Coughing

If you can’t use cough medicine for infants, what can you do to help your little one be more comfortable? There are several tips you can use at home to help relieve your baby’s congestion and cough. These include:

1.  Give Your Baby Plenty of Rest

This helps give your child the energy he or she needs to fight off the infection. You also need to rest when your baby rests so you can have the energy to care for them at night when symptoms are at their worst. Make a comfy nest on the floor in front of the TV and play a kid’s movie or some relaxing music. You may find they rest easier somewhere other than their bed. You can also prop your baby up on your chest while you nap. Elevating them during sleep will make breathing easier.

2.  Humidify the Air in Baby’s Room

Moist air can help to decongest breathing passages and loosen mucous. The warmth will also help relax your baby. A warm mist humidifier is safe for babies who are not yet mobile, but use a cool mist humidifier for babies who crawl or walk to prevent steam burns. In a pinch, you can turn on the hot shower and close the bathroom door. After a few minutes, take your baby in and sit in the steamy room.

3.  Use a Bulb Syringe and a Saline Rinse

Infants can’t yet blow their noses, so you can help them with the use of a bulb syringe and a few drops of saline. Take the saline rinse and place just a few drops in the nose. Use a bulb syringe by pushing all the air out before putting it in your baby’s nose and use it to gently suction out any mucous.

Word of caution, make sure the nose drops you buy are saline only. Nasal sprays with decongestant medication are very dangerous for infants and young children.

4.  Use a Vapor Rub Made for Babies

The adult versions of vapor rub may be too strong for baby, but there are safe versions made for babies 3 months and older. They still have eucalyptus oil, but don’t have menthol or camphor in them. These help to comfort baby and feel like they are breathing easier. Just make sure you check the label and make sure it is “baby safe.” Rub a little on your baby’s chest and back, but avoid the face and hands because they can rub it in their eyes.

5.  Increase Fluid Intake in Babies Over 6 Months Old

For babies younger than 6 months, extra fluids should only be given under a doctor’s advice. Too much fluids can wash out vital electrolytes. In babies over 6 months old, increase intake of clear liquids including pediatric electrolyte solution, diluted juices, and frozen ice pops.

6.  Give Babies Over 6 Months Warm Liquids and Chicken Soup

Warm low sodium chicken soup may help to relieve and shorten the length of viral symptoms. Other warm liquids like warm apple cider and herbal teas may help liquefy mucous. Make sure the herbal tea you use is safe for babies and make sure the liquids aren’t too hot.

7.  Keep the Head of the Crib Elevated

Do not use pillows in a crib or baby bed, but use the pillows under the mattress to get the head of the bed up. You can even use rolled up towels under the mattress. Do not place your child in a car seat, swing, or activity bouncer to sleep as this can “kink” the neck and cause suffocation by closing off the airways. 

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