Age-by-age guide to kids' fever, cough, and cold medicine

What over-the-counter medicines can you safely give your child for a fever, cough, or cold?

We put together this handy guide to OTC fever, cough, and cold medications for children. Here are a few other tips:

  • Aspirin is dangerous when your child has a viral infection. It’s been linked with a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome, so aspirin is completely off-limits for kids unless a doctor recommends it.
  • Antihistamines are tricky. Antihistamines are often present in children’s cough and cold medicine to help with sniffles and sneezes, but they’re also used to treat allergies and allergic reactions. If you’re considering antihistamines for your child’s cough or cold, check the table below for appropriate use. If your child needs relief from allergies, talk to the doctor about how to use antihistamines safely. The rules are different for allergies than for colds.
  • Remember that medicine labels use the average weight of a child for a particular age to determine the right dose. If your child is bigger or smaller than the norm, you may need to give a smaller or larger dose. Be sure to talk to your child’s doctor first.
  • If you have any doubt about how much or what kind of medicine to give your child, talk to your child’s doctor to find out how to give medicine safely.
  • OTC cough and cold medicines say they’re not safe for children under 4 and others say they’re not safe for children under 6. If you use OTC cough and cold medicines, always follow the label’s safety instructions.


by Kelli Miller Stacy
Last updated: May 2012

Age-by-age child medicine chart

Fever Reducers/Pain Relievers Cough and Cold Medicines
Special notes These will lower your child’s fever and reduce overall discomfort but won’t help with other cold symptoms. Revisit the label as your child gets older because formulations and safe dosages change as your child grows. Also, be aware that drops for infants are three times more concentrated than syrup for toddlers. Manufacturers are phasing out infant drops. Don’t mix medicines so you don’t accidentally give your child too much of any one ingredient. Experts debate the safety and effectiveness of cough and cold medicines in children ages 2 to 5. The issue is currently being evaluated by the FDA.
Medicines in this category Acetaminophen Ibuprofen
  • Decongestant (for stuffy noses)
  • Expectorant (to break up mucus)
  • Cough suppressant (to reduce coughing)
  • Antihistamine (for runny noses, sneezing)
0-3 months Call your doctor Don’t use Don’t use
4-5 months Ask your doctor or see  acetaminophen dosing chart Don’t use Don’t use
6-23 months Ask your doctor or see  acetaminophen dosing chart Ask your doctor or see ibuprofen dosing chart Don’t use
2-3 years Follow label dosing Follow label dosing Not recommended, follow label instructions
4-5 years Follow label dosing Follow label dosing Okay for now, follow label instructions
6 years and older Follow label dosing Follow label dosing Follow label dosing

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