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Antitussive Medications for Children

Your child came to the emergency department (ED) with a cough. The majority of new coughs are due to a virus (“cold”) irritating the airway and will go away on their own. We believe that this is the case with your child’s cough. Coughing serves important purposes, such as clearing mucus from the lungs, but it can be frustrating when it interferes with sleep or daily life.

Parents often ask about cough medications (“suppressants”) for their children. Currently, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as well as emergency medicine and pediatric organizations do NOT recommend cough medications for children under 18 years old. Neither medicated nor herbal cough suppressants have been consistently found to prevent or lessen coughing in children, and they can have dangerous side effects.

Steps to take at home:

  • Make sure your whole family covers their mouths when coughing and washes their hands frequently.
  • For children under the age of one, using a nose suctioning device or a humidifier can help improve their congestion and decrease coughing.
  • For children OVER the age of one, two teaspoons of honey (10 ml) can be given by mouth or in warm water every four hours as needed and may decrease the amount of coughing.
  • For children OVER the age of two, medicated vapor rubs with camphor and menthol may decrease coughing and help with sleep.
  • Most fevers are not dangerous to children over two months old but can be treated for comfort with acetaminophen (eg, Tylenol). Children over the age of six months can also be given ibuprofen (eg, Advil or Motrin). All medications should be dosed based on your child’s weight to prevent overdose.
  • Follow up with your pediatrician within two weeks, especially if the cough has not improved. Coughs lingering more than three weeks should be evaluated and may require further testing.

Please speak to your doctor or return to the ED immediately if your child develops difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, bloody coughing, inability to drink fluids due to coughing or vomiting, or other new or worsening symptoms. Please review medication inserts for side effects and call the ED if you have any questions about the medications or care you received.

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