Be medicinewise with cough and cold medicines in young children

9 July 2013

NPS MedicineWise is concerned that parents might still be reaching for cough and cold medicines for their children this winter, despite restrictions introduced for these medicines almost 12 months ago.

On 1 September 2012, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) restricted the use of cough and cold medicines to treat young children in light of evidence about the medicines’ potential harms.

Even though cough and cold medicines are widely used, most have not been studied in clinical trials. There is very little reliable information about their effectiveness, particularly in children, and they are known to potentially cause drowsiness, nausea, vomiting or constipation, and more serious side effects like seizures.

Under the new regulations, cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 6 years of age and should only be given to children aged 6-11 years old on the advice of a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner.

NPS MedicineWise spokesperson, Aine Heaney, said while the changes have been in effect for almost a year, this may be the first time many parents have faced a cold and flu season without cough and cold medicines in reserve.

“It can be very distressing when your child has a cough, cold or flu and it’s not unusual for parents to think that a medicine is required,” says Ms Heaney.

“Particularly if you’ve used cough and cold medicines to treat the kids in the past, it might come as a shock – and perhaps an inconvenience – that those medicines are no longer available or recommended for your child.

“But whatever your personal experience with cough and cold medicines, the fact remains that there is little evidence for their effectiveness and some of their active ingredients can cause serious side effects in children.”

Ms Heaney says that cough syrups (demulcents or cough linctus) that only contain sucrose (a type of sugar) and glycerol may help to sooth a tickly throat and can be given to young children. But instead of reaching for cough and cold medicines with known potential side effects, parents can use a few tried and trusted home remedies to manage the symptoms of a cold or flu.

“If your child is generally healthy, their coughs and colds will usually get better on their own within 7 to 10 days. Making sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks plenty of water will help their recovery.

“A hot honey and lemon drink for children older than 1 year, and ice cubes and throat lozenges for older children, can help to sooth a sore throat. You can also supervise your child while they breathe in steam from a hot bath or shower in a closed room to relieve a blocked nose.”

“If your child has a fever (a temperature higher than 38.5°C) and is in pain or discomfort, either paracetamol or ibuprofen can help ease these symptoms. Ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice on the most appropriate medicine and the correct dose for your child.

“And of course, if you have any concerns about your child’s health, if your child is younger than 3 months, or if their symptoms get worse or don’t improve, you should certainly speak to a health professional.”

To read more about cough and cold treatments, visit

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) . Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

Media enquiries: Stephanie Childs on 02 8217 8667, 0419 618 365 or or Erin Jardine on (02) 8217 8733 or