How to Choose the Best Kid's Cough Medicine

It’s a sound you can’t ignore. Your child starts coughing, and you know it’s likely to be a challenging few days. You also know medicines could help, but which one do you choose? With the many available options, it’s important to choose the best one for your little one—based on factors such as the cause of the cough and your child’s age. In addition to other home treatments, such as humidifiers and keeping your child calm and hydrated, appropriate over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine for kids can go a long way toward relieving that irritating hacking.


Infants and Toddlers

If you have a tiny tyke at home, you may wonder if cough medicines are suitable at all or give them a try, figuring, why not? But, giving your baby or toddler medication may be risky. In a poll conducted in 2013 by the University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital, more than 40 percent of parents reported giving kids under four years old cold medicine meant for adults — which is not recommended. OTC medication meant for adults has not been proven effective for small children, and the potential benefits do not outweigh the potential risks of using such medication. If your kids are younger, use home remedies, such as a humidifier, or ask your doctor about other options.

Children Dosages - Four Years Old And Up

Is your older child coughing? If your child is over the age of four, then cough medicine makes sense. Depending on your child’s age, the amount of OTC medication you give to him or her will change. Be careful to not mix OTC medications when you give them to children and always follow the instructions on correct dosages. For more information on the correct dosages for Delsym® Children's 12 Hour Cough Relief, see the table below.

Children ages 4 to under 6

2.5 mL every 12 hours, not to exceed 5 mL within 24 hours

Children ages 6 to under 12

5 mL every 12 hours, not to exceed 10 mL in 24 hours

Children age 12 to adult

10 mL every 12 hours, not to exceed 20 mL in 24 hours


Basic Ingredients

Not all cough medicines are created equal. Much like food, they vary a lot, depending on their ingredients. Many kids' cough medicines contain an antihistamine, decongestant and a pain reliever. The active ingredient in Delsym® Children's 12 Hour Cough Relief is dextromethorphan, which works with the brain to help decrease the feeling that you need to cough for up to 12 hours. Many cough medicines also contain some type of sweet flavoring to make them more pleasing to kids' palates. Some cough medicines, such as adult versions, contain alcohol or sulfites, which some kids may be sensitive or allergic to. To avoid these additives, read the inactive ingredients list on product packaging.


Potential Side Effects

Like most medicines, those that help ease an irritating cough may cause side effects. While dextromethorphan is considered by the FDA as a safe ingredient, some people experience mild side effects, such as slight dizziness, slight drowsiness or nausea, especially if they take more than recommended on the label. Antihistamines and ibuprofen can cause other side effects, especially potentially an upset stomach. Severe side effects are rare, but it's important to tell your doctor if milder side effects carry on or worsen.


Other Medications

Looking beyond cough medicines may also help. Over-the-counter pain medications acetaminophen and ibuprofen, for example, can be used to manage any pain or fever that comes along with your child's cough. Don't use more than recommended, switch back and forth between these medicines without your doctor's approval, or use a cold medicine containing a pain reliever along with a separate medication. Doing either could lead to overmedicating. Do not give aspirin to anyone 18 years old or younger, naproxen to kids under 12 or ibuprofen to babies under six months unless your doctor instructs it. Don't ever give your child leftover antibiotics or any medications that were prescribed for someone else. Keep in mind that if your child has a cold, antibiotics won't help since colds are caused by a virus, not bacteria.


No matter what medicine you use, familiarize yourself with and follow directions on the packaging and stay in touch with your physician as needed — especially if symptoms worsen. Encourage your child to rest and drink plenty of fluids, knowing that symptoms will gradually improve with healing.