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Cough and Cold Medicines to Avoid in Babies and Young Children

Having an infant with a cold can be distressing for parents.   Cough, congestion, and sore throats can affect their sleep, their eating habits, and they may be more irritable.  

Parents often bring their babies and young children into my office asking what they can do to alleviate their baby or child’s cold symptoms.  Unfortunately, there is not a cure for the cold.  But we can help ease some symptoms.  

 What About All of Those Products Available In Pharmacies?

Many of the products available on the shelves of pharmacies are not suitable for young children or babies for the treatment of the common cold.  

In fact, Health Canada requires that all cough and cold products are labeled that they should not be used in children under 6 years old.  

What You Should Avoid And Why


  • Examples: diphenhydramine, brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine
  • No benefit in the treatment of the common cold
  • Many potential side effects including sedation, paradoxical excitability, slowed breathing, hallucinations

Antitussives (Cough Medicine)

  • Example: dextromethorphan
  • Lack of proven benefit in children
  • Risk for overdose due to lack of evidence in children causing slowed breathing or behavioural disturbances


  • Example: guaifenesin
  • No benefit in the treatment of cough in children


  • Examples: phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine
  • Benefits are unproven in children
  • Potential for harm due to overdose and enhanced side effects seen in children (increased heart rate, irritability, sleeplessness, seizures)

Vapor Rubs

  • Examples: menthol, camphor or eucalyptus
  • Menthol does not improve nasal airflow in studies 
  • Potential side effects include burning sensations of the skin, nose and eyes, rash/redness of the skin where it is applied z

Homeopathic Preparations

Always ask your doctor or pharmacist which medicines or treatments are safe and effective for treating your child’s cold.

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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