Ask Your Pharmacist

January 30, 2020

My little guy is five years old and has a cough and cold. What can I use to help relieve his symptoms?


Things have changed since I was a little whipper snapper. Back in the day, Mum treated my cough and cold symptoms with flattened ginger ale, cartoons, and whatever cold and cold product she could get her hands on.

We now understand most cough and cold medicines have not been proven to be effective in children, and the safety of some of these products has been called into question for young children. For these reasons, in 2009, Health Canada removed approval for use of cough and cold preparations in children under six years of age and urged caution for use in children six years and older.

What is left to use for children who are ill with cough and cold? I have included below a few of my favourites that are good choices based on evidence and safety information that is known. Information changes rapidly so always check with your pharmacist or primary care provider to make sure the over-the-counter remedies you choose for your little ones are safe.

General recommendations:

Always check the label first to make sure the medication is suitable for your child. Do not give children medications labelled only for adults. Do not give more than one kind of cough and cold medicine. Do not combine medicines with the same ingredient(s) because this may cause unwanted side effects. 

Fluid intake: Keeping your little one well-hydrated during illness with cough and cold is crucial. Ensure plenty of clear fluids (e.g. water, diluted non-sweetened fruit juice, or clear soups) to prevent dehydration while keeping the throat moist and helping to loosen up secretions.

Cool humidified air helps make your child’s environment comfortable. Humidity helps relieve congested upper airways in kids. It is recommended to frequently clean humidifiers that use cold water to avoid bacterial build up. Warm air humidity has not been proven to be better than cool air humidity, so to avoid hot water burns, cool air humidifiers are preferred by many.

Over-the-counter products:

Pasteurized honey can safely be used for children older than one year of age. Honey is relatively inexpensive, is safe to use in kids, and is effective in relieving irritation of the airways as well as other cough and cold symptoms. Stodal honey is a syrup available to purchase in most pharmacies. It contains honey and is marketed to work against dry or wet cough in children ages one to 11 years.

Antihistamines such as Aerius may or may not help cough and cold symptoms in children. Aerius Kids or desloratadine 0.5 mg/mL liquid (bubble gum flavoured) is a once daily non-drowsy antihistamine for kids two years of age and older that can relieve symptoms of congestion, stuffiness, sneezing, runny itchy nose, seasonal allergies, allergic cough, etc. It may also be useful to dry up a post-nasal drip causing a nagging tickle at back of the throat.     

Salinex contains saline nasal drops and is a safe and effective choice to reduce symptoms of a dry and irritated nose in infants and children. Suction bulbs are also available to help clear out infants’ nasal passages.

Infant/children’s acetaminophen or pediatric/children’s ibuprofen are two different types of pain relievers commonly used to relieve aches and pain associated with cold symptoms. Dosing is usually based on your child’s weight. There are daily maximum dosages and other precautions with these types of medications so be sure to seek advice from your pharmacist. 

Benylin cough and cold liquid (grape flavoured) contains a cough suppressant known as dextromethorphan and a decongestant known as pseudoepehrine. This product may be used to relieve symptoms of dry cough and stuffy nose in children age six years and older. If your child has asthma, it is even more important to speak with your pharmacist before use.

Allow your little one plenty of rest. If you have any concern with your child’s condition or if symptoms do not improve within six to 10 days, or worsen, consult your physician or nurse practitioner.  For more information, check out the recommendations from the Canadian Pediatric Society:

Dr. Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Sharp’s Corner Drugstore in Sussex, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to