Decongestants not effective in young children

11 October 2018

Children under 12 should not be given decongestants as they don’t alleviate cold symptoms and their safety is unclear, a study involving a Univerisity of Queensland researcher has found.

Primary Care Clinical Unit Head Professor Mieke van Driel said the study analysed published findings about the effectiveness of common cold treatment among children and adults.

“For adults, the evidence suggested that using decongestants alone, or with antihistamines or analgesics, for a maximum of three to seven days could alleviate nasal symptoms,” Professor van Driel said.

“But for children, these medications had no effect on nasal symptoms.

“We recommend they should not be given to children under six and advise caution between six and 12 years of age due to potential adverse effects such as drowsiness or stomach upset.

“In children under two, they have been associated with convulsions, rapid heart rate and death.”

Professor van Driel said doctors should instead reassure young patients and their parents that while having a cold is distressing, symptoms should pass in a few days.  

“If parents are concerned about their child’s comfort, saline nasal irrigations or drops can be used safely.”

“But based on currently available evidence, reassurance that symptoms clear within seven to 10 days is the best you can offer these patients.”

The study is published in The BMJ (DOI 10.1136/bmj. k3786).

Media: Faculty of Medicine Communications,, +61 7 2265 5133.