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Keeping Cough Syrup From Toddlers

POSTED: 07:30 PM ET, 10/ 7/2008 by The Editors

Each year, American parents spend an estimated $300 million on non-prescription children's cold remedies. More than a third of all households buy the medicines. A recent study found that in any given week, around 10 percent of U.S. children are taking them. But much disagreement remains among doctors, health experts, drug companies and federal officials about their safety and efficacy.

Yesterday, a top Food and Drug Administration official rejected a call by doctors' groups and others to ban over-the-counter cough and cold products for children under 6. Today, drug companies took a partial step anyway, advising parents not to allow children under age 4 to take the medicines.

That boosts the previous health advisory which said the medicines shouldn't be given to children under 2.

But the change does not go as far as a panel for the Food and Drug Administration, which recommended last year that children up to age 6 should not use such medicines because their effectiveness has not been studied in kids, and the risks outweigh their benefits.

The under-6 provision is supported by groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says there is not enough research to show how the products affect children.

Many doctors point to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that about 7,000 children a year, ages 11 and younger go to hospital emergency rooms after taking cold and cough medicines, about two-thirds of them ingested without a parent or caregiver nearby. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 are most often affected.

Two months ago, researchers in Arizona reported that 10 "unexpected" infant deaths in that state in 2006 were associated with over-the-counter cold medicines.

The cold-medicine industry group, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, says that the medicines are safe if used properly. Excluding accidental overdoses, serious "adverse events" from use of the drugs in 2- to -6-year-olds occur about once in every 20 million doses, the group says.

By The Editors |  October 7, 2008; 7:30 PM ET
Previous: AIG Executive Retreat Irks Lawmakers | Next: Nevada Voter Fraud Probe, Bailout Contracting, Gitmo Detainees


Please email us to report offensive comments.

If 2/3s of the victims of children's cold medicine incidents are because kids are ingesting "without a parent or caregiver nearby" the issue is not the medicine. It's the stupidity of parents for leaving meds where kids can reach them. What about banning ALL medicines that kids injest accidentally when parents aren't looking? And based on the studies, many of the other cases involve overdoses where the parent or caregiver is responsible for giving doses at several times the recommended amounts.

Maybe it hasn't been studied, but those cough meds work just fine on MY kids at exactly the dose recommended by my ped, which happens to be the dose recommended on the box. I'm irritated beyond measure that the nanny state has to step in and take away relief that works for my children because other parents are not smart enough to lock the medicine cabinet.

ESPECIALLY since more people OD on Tylenol and it's generic equivalents every.single.year, but I don't hear any calls to ban the sale of those drugs.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2008 6:35 AM

Ditto. The problem is the parents not following instructions on the label, and not keeping medicine out of kids reach. Cough & Cold medicine is the only thing that calms my daughter's cold symptoms so she can sleep at night. Now I'm supposed to let my 2-1/2 year old stay up all night coughing? I think not.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2008 8:30 AM

It's an advisory, not a mandate. You ladies need to calm down.

Posted by: billkristolsgoodtwin | October 8, 2008 8:41 AM

Incessant coughing itself is bad for a kid. My kids' pediatrician's dosing instructions were the same as what's on the bottle, and the meds did provide relief. (My kids are teens now.)

I ditto the earlier comments. If something must be banned, ban inappropriate storage and use of medications - not the medications themselves.

Posted by: cantante | October 8, 2008 8:46 AM

I have been an Emergency Dept nurse for 15 years and agree that parents should be VERY cautious in dosing their children with ANY medication. Children are especially sensitive to medication due to size and metabolism. Home medication safety is preached time and time but it usually takes an "accidental ingestion" to bring some parents around. Any medication should be kept out of access to children, even if that means a locked cabinet.
As far as medicating with cough/cold medications, I encourage parents to try nonchemical methods first. An Academy of Pediatrics study has shown that, for children >1yr, 1/2 to 1tsp of honey or light corn syrup has been as effective or more effective in soothing cough than dextramethorphan (the DM in most preparations). Sips of warm fluids, inhaling warm mist from a steamy bathroom and a bedside humidifier are excellent treatments. In my professional oppinion, cough and cold preparations are more soothing for parents than children because the parent is able to "give something" to their child. Most viral respiratory infections are not diminished in severity or duration by any over the counter remedy. There more risk than benefit in given medications to children under 6yrs. Try natural first.

Posted by: Shawn RN | October 8, 2008 8:47 AM

It's not a mandate YET, billkristolsgoodtwin. You need to read all the words.

Posted by: cantante | October 8, 2008 8:49 AM

Yeah, keep giving your kids cough suppressants. Let's see... When you have post-nasal drip, the cough reflex is designed to... What was it now? Oh yeah, prevent that crap from entering the lungs. When you suppress the cough, the crap goes right on through, opening the door to pneumonia.

Posted by: whatever | October 8, 2008 10:37 PM

MEDS can be dangerous! Keep away from kids. Ditto to cantante

Posted by: Cutiepie | October 9, 2008 5:40 PM

My friend's daughter, Jasmine DIED from taking and overdose of cough suppressants! NEVER keep them in reach of a child!!!

Posted by: Cutiepie | October 9, 2008 5:46 PM

Perhaps, instead of talking about banning cold medicines, we should talk about WHAT ELSE will cure a child's cold. It does no good to leave parents without a cure.

Posted by: Jim | October 10, 2008 9:58 AM

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