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Doctors tell how to treat small kids with colds

The voluntary withdrawal of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children younger than 2 has raised questions about what's safe and how parents should treat children with such symptoms.

USA TODAY shares some doctors' advice:

Question: What is different about the bodies of children under age 2 that makes medication such an issue? And what should parents of these very young kids do to relieve their symptoms?

Answer: "The way they handle medications is different," says Richard Gorman, a Baltimore pediatrician who chairs a panel for the American Academy of Pediatrics that deals with drug treatments. "They absorb them differently. They metabolize them differently. They excrete them differently."

He says parents should look to tried-and-true methods that are safe and may make your child feel better.

"Extra humidity in the air. Extra fluids for them to drink to keep the mucus under control. Give them Tylenol, Motrin or Advil for fever," he says.

Question: We've been talking here about the under-2 and over-2 age groups. Should parents treat their symptoms differently?

Answer: "Illnesses that cause symptoms under age 2 can be slightly different," says Ian Paul, a Hershey, Pa., pediatrician in practice for nine years. His research has focused on over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children, and he says he's never recommended them. "Watch the younger children a little bit more closely and have lower thresholds for bringing them to the doctor. Make sure they are well-hydrated and don't have labored breathing. If they're having tears, are urinating and their mouth is still moist, they're well-hydrated."

Question: How do these medications affect children older than 2?

Answer: Guidelines issued last year by the American College of Chest Physicians noted that over-the-counter cough medications had "little, if any, benefit" in children, and antihistamines had "minimal" effect.

"As weak as the data are for adults, it is even weaker or less existent for kids. There is little or no compelling data that they worked," says Peter Dicpinigaitis, a pulmonologist from New York City who co-authored the guidelines.

Question: What is the short-answer message to parents of young children?

Answer: "As far as cold medicines in young children, there is no proven benefit and definite proven risk," says Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu.

"Why chance it?"