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How To Find a Children's Cough Medicine That Works

How To Buy The Best Cough Medicine For Your Children

Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology Profile Photo

Written by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology on December 6, 2021

When it comes to finding the right cough medicine for your sick child, there are a wide array of products available, and this can make it tough for you to know which ones are worth your time and which products you may want to avoid altogether.

Some medicines contain active ingredients that work as cough suppressants while other medicines contain active ingredients that work as cough expectorants. Some medicines contain both types of ingredients, thus working to suppress the persistent urge to cough while also thinning out the mucus so that your child can cough it up and out of their lungs more easily.

Alternatively, depending on whether or not your child is experiencing other symptoms alongside their cough, you may want to look for cough medicines that also contain ingredients aimed at relieving other symptoms, such as a runny nose or headache.

With so many different options to take into consideration, how can you know which products may be a good choice for your child?

Learning more about cough suppressants and expectorants, such as how they work, can help you gain a better understanding of which medicine products might be the best fit for your child’s symptoms.

You should also make sure to always check medicine labels for age limits, as some products are not recommended for use by children under certain ages. Anytime that you are doubtful regarding the safety of a product for your child, you should consult your pediatrician for the most accurate advice pertaining to your child’s specific situation. Your pediatrician will also be able to guide you through proper dosing and usage of the medicine product.

Cough Suppressants and Expectorants: What Are They?

One of the best things you can do in order to better understand the cough medicines available to you is to learn more about what cough suppressants and expectorants are and how they differ from each other.

Suppressants and expectorants are the two main types of cough medicines, but they are not interchangeable, and in some cases, one may be more beneficial than the other.

Cough Suppressants

If your child has a dry cough, which is a cough that does not produce phlegm or mucus, a cough suppressant may be a better option than a cough expectorant. Cough suppressants are also commonly referred to as antitussives, and they temporarily control or relieve a cough by suppressing the part of the brain that triggers the coughing reflex.

Common causes of a dry cough include allergies, dry air, pollutants, dust, fumes, or smoke, but a dry cough can also be caused by minor throat or lung irritation from an illness or infection.

Cough Expectorants

On the other hand, if your child is dealing with a wet cough or a cough with chest congestion, this means that their cough is bringing up phlegm or mucus. Many forms of illness, including the common cold and bronchitis, can lead to an overproduction of mucus in the body, and this eventually leads to a build up of mucus.

As a result, your child coughs because this is the body’s way of trying to get rid of the excess mucus. Cough expectorants can help relieve a wet cough because they work to loosen congestion and mucus so that it is easier to cough up and get rid of. This helps your child clear the mucus from their lungs more quickly.

Medicines Containing Both Suppressants and Expectorants

While many cough medicine products contain either cough suppressant ingredients or cough expectorant ingredients, some medicine products contain a combination of both.

A cough medicine that contains both a cough suppressant and an expectorant can come in handy if your child’s cough is producing mucus, but it is also so persistent that it is interfering with your child’s ability to get a good night’s sleep.

Generally, wet coughs are necessary because they are working to clear the mucus out of the body, but when a wet cough becomes so persistent that it is causing your child to lose sleep, you should consult your pediatrician about a medicine containing both a cough suppressant and an expectorant.

How To Use Your OTC Cough Medicines Safely

Regardless of which type of cough medicine you and your pediatrician decide to use to ease your child’s symptoms, it is critical for you to understand how to use the medicine properly.

Before giving an OTC cough medicine to your child when they are coughing, you should take your child to the pediatrician to have their cough appropriately diagnosed, especially if you do not know what is causing the cough or if it seems particularly severe.

You should always consult your pediatrician before giving an OTC medicine to your child, especially if they are younger than 6 years old, in order to ensure that you have all of the important information that you need in order to safely give your child their medicine.

You should always read the drug label very carefully, as this label contains information regarding dosage, any necessary warnings, potential side effects, and all active and inactive ingredients included in the product.

If you are giving your child multiple over-the-counter medicines because they are experiencing a variety of symptoms, you should take care to avoid giving them two products containing the same active ingredients.

You should also do your best to only give your child products containing active ingredients aimed at treating symptoms they are experiencing. In other words, avoid giving your child unnecessary medications so they don’t end up with excess medication in their system.

Whenever you have questions or concerns about your child’s medicine, you should get in touch with your pediatrician in order to get the answers you need.

Home Remedies for Your Child’s Cough

When you are giving your child cough medicine, there are also some home remedies that you can use in order to bring your child even more relief—just make sure to avoid combining several types of medication unless your pediatrician tells you to do so.

Offering your child plenty of fluids and warm beverages can help them stay well hydrated while also working to thin and loosen any mucus in their system. Warm fluids may also help soothe any irritation in the throat, and adding honey to these fluids may make them even more effective. However, you should proceed with caution when using honey, and do not give honey to children who are less than 1 year old.

You may also choose to offer cough drops to children who are 6 years old or older, and thus who may be able to safely use cough drops with a minimized choking risk. If you give cough drops to your child, make sure to supervise them and make sure they do not choke or fall asleep with a cough drop still in their mouth.

If your child is experiencing coughing fits, which may be especially common in cases of a dry and persistent cough, running a hot shower and sitting with your child in the steam may help to calm the coughing fit. The warm mist can help soothe irritated airways and bring relief. Using home remedies alongside your child’s cough medicine may bring them great relief while their body fights off the illness.

If your child’s symptoms do not seem to improve with treatment, or if their symptoms begin to worsen with treatment, you should consult your pediatrician for next steps in order to make sure nothing more serious is going on.

The Bottom Line

When your child has a cough, their symptoms may be very uncomfortable, and at times may be interfering with their ability to sleep or get rest while their body fights off the illness.

The two main types of cough medicine are cough suppressants and cough expectorants, and the right type of medicine for your child can largely depend on the type of cough they are experiencing.

Dry coughs, like those caused by allergens, irritants, and pollution, may be treated with a cough suppressant that calms the persistent urge to cough.

However, if your child has a wet cough that is producing mucus, a cough expectorant can help thin and loosen the mucus, thus making it easier for your child to cough it up and out of their lungs. A wet cough works to help the body get rid of the excess mucus that is produced when a cold or infection strikes, and an expectorant makes this process easier.

If you are not sure how to best help your child find relief, it is important to consult your pediatrician, and you should speak with your pediatrician before giving your child any over the counter cough medicines.


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