Are Cough and Cold Medicines Safe for Babies?

Cough syrup could seriously harm your little one, and even natural cures like honey aren't safe for babies. 

Cough Syrup and Spoon sumire8/shutterstock.com

Wondering if cough and cold medicines are safe for Baby? The answer is an unequivocal "no."

More and more research shows that not only do these medicines not work, they may also have significant side effects—even if administered correctly. Each child metabolizes medicine differently, so even if you give her the correct amount for her weight, it can still cause some dangerous side effects. Reactions may include nausea and vomiting, insomnia, eating more or less than usual or, more rarely, hallucinations and even seizures.

What's more, because these drugs may contain overlapping ingredients (combos of decongestants, antihistamines, cough suppressants, and expectorants) your child can accidentally overdose from taking more than one medication at a time—like a cough syrup and cough and cold drops, say—even if you follow the correct dosing instructions for each one.

Honey is a good alternative to cough syrup, and studies have shown it's better than cough medicine for relieving coughs and soothing sick children. Darker honeys, such as buckwheat, are higher in antioxidants and therefore may be more effective. Children ages 1 to 5 years can take half a teaspoon and kids ages 6 to 11 get one teaspoon. Never give honey to babies younger than 1; they can get botulism from bacteria in it.

One study found agave nectar reduced cough symptoms better than nothing at all in children ages 2 months to 47 months. Some doctors suggest that any kid-friendly liquid, even water, can be effective in soothing a dry throat, but children are more cooperative in taking those that taste sweet.  

When to Worry: A Lingering Cough