When people started saying that you shouldn't use decongestant, antihistamine, or cough suppressants in kids under 6 or maybe even kids under 12, parents started asking me lots of questions. "What do you do when your child has a cold? It's like you've tied both hands behind our backs." I'm Doctor Alan Greene and I'd like to start answering that question.
The first thing is, it's not that the doctors are trying to hold back the good stuff. Studies have shown that those things just don't work in children. Children aren't the same as adults, and even though some studies have shown affect in grown-ups before puberty, there's very little evidence that they are helpful and they can cause side effects.
There is evidence though that other things help for instance for cough, plain old honey - a spoon full of honey works better than DM cough syrup. Of course you want to save honey for kids over one because of concerns about botulism in babies.
Cough drops are another thing that can really help for coughs and for sore throats. When sucking on a cough drop, it can help increase saliva production and antibodies and reduce cough - great thing to do for kids who are old enough that you're sure that they are not going to choke on it, usually four and above.
For congestion you might try saline nose washes or saline nose drops can be helpful and shown in some studies to help, and in a number of studies steam has been shown to help, too. You can use a hot shower or a vaporizer if the child is not at an age when they will run over and trip and scald themselves. And if they are at an age of concern, you can get a little personal vaporizer. You can supervise and put their face over it and inhale the steam that way.
There are a number of herbs that have been shown to help in different ways, too. Echinacea has been shown in some studies to be helpful for cold and flu. Valerian root for helping kids sleep when they have a cold. Zinc the mineral has been shown to be helpful in colds when kids are zinc deficient and many American kids are, so there are a lot of things you can try but whatever you do try, within a week or so your child's life will be back to normal and it's not worth trying anything that might cause dangerous side affects.