During cold, flu, or allergy season, parents look for every possible way to relieve their kids’ discomfort. Especially sore throats! Whether home remedies or something from the pharmacy, options abound. Enter cough drops. They don’t require a prescription. Many adults love cough drops as a quick way to soothe a sore throat. So, can we give kids cough drops?
When deciding if cough drops are okay for kids, we need to think about:
- the child’s age
- the cough drop ingredients
Can you give kids cough drops? How young is too young?
By cough drops, I’m referring to the medicines designed to be held in the mouth until they dissolve. They resemble hard candies and can contain a wide range of ingredients. They’re also known as throat lozenges.
Many adults find them very helpful for sore throats or coughs.
Kids under age 4 years should not have cough drops. Not only are they a choking hazard, the ingredients themselves range from unhelpful to potentially dangerous.
Kids between ages 4 and 6 may use them sometimes, depending on the ingredients and parent comfort level with the choking risk.
Children over age 6 may use cough drops if they are labeled for their age group. Of course, they still need to be careful when using a them.
The rest of this post goes into more detail.
Cough drops are a choking hazard for young kids.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends extra caution for choking in kids under age 4. This means younger kids also should not eat whole peanuts, popcorn, chewing gum, or hard candy.
Even older kids should eat all food while seated. (Risk of choking goes up if they’re walking around with food in their mouths).
So, it makes sense that cough drops fall under the same category. They are small and hard, like peanuts. If accidentally lodged in a child’s throat or further down into their trachea or “windpipe,” it could lead to choking.
(It goes without saying that choking can be deadly. If a child chokes, a parent or bystander can intervene immediately with the Heimlich maneuver. See this video for more information).
No matter how sore a child’s throat is, this choking risk is not worth it. Toddlers should not use cough drops. I also discourage the use of lollipops or suckers (medicated or not) among young kids for the same reason. An enthusiastic or accidental chomp could cause the candy to break off into their mouths.
Many ingredients in cough drops are not meant for children under age 4.
Please see this post about common cold treatments in children. Generally, cold medicines are not recommended for children under age 4. This includes medications in cough drops.
Other ingredients may not have been well-studied in young kids.
Some cough drops (some Zarbee’s and Beekeeper’s Natural products, for example) include extra vitamins and/or zinc. This may be okay, but may also not be necessary if a child is already taking a multivitamin or getting enough vitamins and minerals from their diet.
Which ingredients in cough drops are okay for kids?
Note: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
First, I am impressed with several brands of throat lozenges that use mostly honey, pectin, and juice concentrates. If a child over age 4 needed a cough drop, I would look for these. A few examples include: Burt’s Bees, Lolleez, and Little Remedies. (Affiliate links).
Cough drops for kids: Ingredient review
Below, I’ll review some of the common ingredients in cough drops marketed to young children. Parents can review ingredient labels and decide what they feel safe giving their kids.
Menthol in cough drops
Many throat lozenges include the ingredient menthol. Halls and Ricola are two common brands.
Menthol is not for children under age 2. This is part of the reason why Vicks VapoRub and other mentholated rubs are not for kids under age 2. And, in adolescents and adults, too much menthol may actually worsen their cough.
Chicory root fiber in cough drops
This is also listed in some brands of cough drops. From available information about chicory root fiber, it’s probably fine for most ages, including young children. For a child with no allergies, I personally wouldn’t worry about this ingredient. And even though we wouldn’t use a cough drop in an infant, it’s worth noting a European study safely added chicory root fiber to infant formula. I mention this for context.
Benzocaine in cough drops
Cepacol is a common brand with benzocaine as an active ingredient. Benzocaine helps with pain by numbing the area it touches. Benzocaine is absolutely not for kids under age 2. We should be extra cautious in older children too! With benzocaine, there is a risk of a possibly deadly blood disorder called methemoglobinemia. See this FDA warning.
Very generally speaking, I choose and recommend medications without benzocaine for kids of all ages.
Dyclonine hydrochloride in cough drops
Dyclonine is found in Sucrets. This is another topical pain medication. For children old enough to use cough drops, this medication is approved, as long as dosing directions are followed. (It’s also not for kids under age 2).
Pectin in cough drops
Pectin in lozenges is the same as pectin in fruit! It comes from the fibrous part of many fruits. It can be used to help thicken jam or marmalade. In cough drops, it theoretically helps by coating the throat in a soothing layer. There’s not much pectin research for sore throat in kids. However, if there are no food allergy concerns, if a child is old enough to use a cough drop (as a reminder, this is over age 4), then pectin is likely reasonable enough.
If a cough drop isn’t right for my kids, what will help?
Cough drops are not necessary. And, if it’s not already clear, cough drops are never for toddlers. This doesn’t mean they need to suffer. There are other options for treatment in young kids.
As discussed in my earlier post about the common cold, a teaspoon of honey is a fine option for coughs in kids over age 1 year.
Sips of fluids, including herbal teas, are fine. A dash of lemon juice or honey added to water (again, honey!) can go a long way.
If the pain is really uncomfortable, and it’s been approved by their doctor, kids can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (In other words, sore throats in young kids should be discussed with their doctor).
Is it more than a tickle in the throat?
As always, if a parent feels that their child is sick enough to need medical treatment, it’s worth a call to their child’s doctor. They can discuss details and tailored suggestions.
This is especially true if a child’s throat is so sore that they have trouble swallowing. Please seek prompt medical care if this is the case! Please also see this post about fevers.
And, please remember that nothing you read here should delay or pre-empt real life medical care.
Summary of cough drops for children
Can you give kids cough drops? Well, for kids over age 4, it might be something to discuss with their pediatrician. If you do choose to give a cough drop to older kids, make sure to follow package directions. Because some contain medication, it’s important they don’t take more than what is recommended. And, usually there are better options anyway.
Again, children under age 4 should not have cough drops. Not only is there a choking risk, but the ingredients may not be safe and effective for this age group.
Photo by Dan-Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash
Maya Mahmood, D.O., F.A.A.P. is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier.
This is for information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
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