Posted by Claudia Grazioso on March 9, 2011
Here it comes: A sniffle. A snuffle. A sneeze. An eye rub. Any mom knows these are telltale signs of two things: 1) your child is about to get a cold, and 2) you have T minus 10 until it sandbags you, too.
There is nothing you can do about Number 2. But when your baby or small child gets a cold, the options for how to treat it can be dizzying. It’s tempting to give decongestants a try — especially after a few nights of lost sleep — but there are some things to consider first.
The main ingredients in most over-the-counter decongestants are phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine. They both help to relieve sinus congestion and pressure by shrinking blood vessels in the nasal passages. The problem is they can also cause irritability and sleeplessness (and who needs that?). And if given at an improper dosage, much more serious side effects can result. Most experts agree — no pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine for children under four. If you’re pregnant, you should also stay away from these. In some studies, pseudoephedrine was thought to cause lower birth weight and height in some animals, as well as a decrease in bone formation.
If you can’t bear another sleepless night with a stuffy-nosed child, here are some guidelines if you choose to give your child a decongestant. DO NOT give him or her more than the recommended dose. Think of “Recommended Dosage” as the polite way of saying “Absolutely Do Not Give Your Child More Than This.” Don’t give your child a multi-symptom cold formula. If they don’t have aches and chills and sore throats and earaches, don’t give them a medicine that treats those things. Some doctors even recommend (again, polite word for “order”) against giving multi-symptom cold medicines to children under 12 at all. And as always, check in with your pediatrician first.
What can you do naturally to treat a cold? First, have your child drink a lot of fluids. Chamomile or peppermint teas, water and healthy juices are a good bet. As crazy as it sounds, drinking a lot of fluids really can help break up congestion. Second, steam. Lots and lots of steam. Set up a humidifier in your child’s room, or have them take a hot shower. And a lot of moms swear by saline sprays. They are a great way to soothe inflamed nasal passages and get everything flowing again. A caveat: the first time you try saline nose drops, it will take your child by surprise. The second time, he or she will be ready to fight. Now is not the time to lose your cool. It is the time to bribe. Bust out the Oreos and you might have an easier time.
So you’ve nursed your child through one of what will be many, many colds. Congratulations. Now put on your jammies, sit back and wait for your own sniffles to start.