Choosing cold medication for children can be confusing

(NBC) - Two years after new guidelines concerning children's cough and cold medicine, many parents are still unclear about what to give, or not give, a sick child.

"There are so many choices out there. The question is which ones are safe," said pediatrician Dr. Manisha Panchal. "Parents can be very confused."

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration and major drug companies came out with new guidelines recommending parents not use cough and cold medicine for children under the age of 4.

The reason the FDA recommended the stricter guidelines in the first place is because they've found too many parents giving kids the wrong doses.

They would, for example, measure medication with a kitchen spoon rather than the provided measuring cup and end up giving too much, or get mixed up when giving multiple medications.

Even with the new guidelines, Panchal reports still seeing those mistakes. But she does have a few suggestions to get kids through their illnesses.

  • Use saline sprays for nasal congestion.
  • Honey can be used as a cough suppressant for children older than 1 year.
  • Never use any medicine meant for an adult.
  • If the illness isn't bad enough to require a call to the doctor, do nothing at all.

Simplicity is often the best cure for confusion.

One reason the risk of overdose is so great with children is that their medications tend to have higher concentrations of the active ingredient because it can be tough to get a child to take medication.

To combat this, manufacturers make the concentrations high enough so that an entire dosage can be delivered in a single swallow or sip.

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