Many over the counter (otc) cough and cold medicines commonly used by adults aren’t recommended for children under the age of 6 years old. Many parents are asking if any supplements can be safely used. This is a tricky area since most supplements are evaluated for safety and effectiveness in adults, not kids. But kids are still getting sick – so, what can parents use?
Worth trying: The most popular ingredient in “natural” cough and cold products for kids is honey. Research shows that taking 0.5-2 teaspoons of honey at bedtime can reduce coughing and improve sleep in kids 2 years and older with a cold. It’s also at least as effective as common OTC cough suppressants like dextromethorphan. Parents should understand that they should NOT give honey to infants under 12 months – doing so puts the child at risk for botulism poisoning.
There are also several nondrug strategies that can also benefit kids. When done properly, nasal irrigation can safely improve symptoms of colds and allergies in children (for example Nosefrida® etc). Using humidifiers can also help. Parents are reminded that for many kids, drinking lots of fluids and eating soup might be all they need to get over a cold.
Consider avoiding: Eldeberry is a popular ingredient commonly used for cold and flu symptoms. Taking elderberry extract might shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms in kids over 12. But keep in mind that many products don’t contain enough elderberry extract to have the benefits seen in clinical research, and safety in children under 12 isn’t clear.
Parents might also ask about camphor. It’s FDA-approved as a chest rub for cough in adults. While it’s safe and effective to use topically for cough in adults, camphor is actually POSSIBLY UNSAFE for kids. Kids are more prone to its side effects even when a small amount is absorbed through the skin. Instead of rubbing it on the skin, try applying to a Kleenex and keeping the Kleenex close to the child.
Vitamin C and zinc supplements are also very common. While these supplements may shorten colds or improve coughs adults, high doses are typically used. These high doses might not be safe for children and may increase side effects. The risk probably outweighs any benefit. Echinacea is also very popular in cold supplements. While it might benefit adults, it actually doesn’t seem to benefit kids. It can also cause an allergic skin rash in some children.
Parents are reminded that despite what they might read on the internet, most supplements haven’t been adequately tested for safety in children. Most studies evaluate use in only adults.