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No Cough and Cold Meds - Now What?

When you get a cold, it's easy to turn to the medicine cabinet for relief. When you want to ease your child's stuffy-nosed wails, though, steer clear of cold meds. An advisory committee of leading pediatricians has warned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that not only are over-the-counter medicines ineffective on infants, they may not even be safe. Here's what you need to know about cold meds, and how you can still help your child feel better without them.

Behind the medication withdrawal

Why are some pharmaceutical companies pulling their over-the-counter syrups off store shelves? "These medicines can be toxic or fatal if not administered properly  -- and there are no approved dosing recommendations," says Dr. Adam Cohen, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control who participated in an investigation of three infant deaths in 2006 related to cough and cold medications.

As a result of the study, several well-known manufacturers of infant cough and cold medicines, such as Wyeth and Novartis, have voluntarily withdrawn certain products from pharmacy and drugstore shelves.

Dr. Daniel Rauch, director of the Pediatric Hospitalist Program at NYU Medical Center, thinks that the FDA's ruling is overdue. "There has long been evidence that these medications don't work in young children." What's more, many parents, in an effort to alleviate their child's discomfort, have been known to administer two different cold medications at a time. Dangerous overdose can occur when both medications have the same active ingredient.

Dr. Rauch adds, "Cold meds aren't cheap, and I don't advocate something that takes money out of parents' pockets and isn't even proven to help their child. Giving your child these medications won't cure anything  -- your child will recover just as quickly without the medication, as the illness runs its course."

Drug-free cold soothers

So what's the safest, most effective way to soothe a sniffly, coughing child? Good old TLC will often do the trick. Dr. Rauch prescribes comfort from Mom, lots of rest, and plenty of fluids (try a bowl of trusty chicken soup  -- this timeless remedy actually slows the surge of white blood cells that accumulate in bronchial tubes). "If your child has a fever or is achy, giving a dose of kids' Tylenol [acetaminophen] or Motrin [ibuprofen] to bring the fever down and alleviate discomfort is fine," Dr. Rauch says. (If your baby is younger than 6 months, you should not administer ibuprofen.) "But if he's feeling well enough to get out of bed and run around and play, there's no sense in administering other medication  -- that's your best indication that your child is recovering."

If your infant needs simple symptom relief, you can try these drug-free soothers:

* Use a rubber bulb syringe (you can buy one at your local drugstore) to gently loosen mucus and unclog your baby's stuffy nose. While this might sound scary, it's not at all difficult to do: Gently squirt a couple of drops of saline solution into your baby's nasal passages (found at pharmacies, or make your own by dissolving 1/4 teaspoon salt in 8 ounces warm water). Then lightly suction out your baby's nostrils.

* Run a cool-mist humidifier in your baby's room during naptime and at bedtime.

* Try a mentholated chest cream formulated for young children, like Vicks BabyRub  -- it can ease stuffiness. Make sure to check the label for age restrictions.