Kids and Cough Medicine

Kids can get into everything, which can be dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights one example – when kids swallow so much over-the-counter cough and cold medicine that they have to go to the emergency department.

The CDC’s Melissa Schaefer says it happens to about 7,000 kids each year. She says about 4,600 of those got into the medications without their parents knowing, and most were ages 2 years to 5 years.

Schaefer says child-resistant packaging by itself wasn’t enough:

``Parents should be reminded to keep all medications, not just cough and cold medications, out of the hands of their children, so secured in cupboards or cabinets where their kids can’t access them.’’

She says parents should remind kids meds are not candy, and should avoid taking their meds while the kids watch.

During the winter, it's common for children to pick up various respiratory germs that have them coughing and feeling bad. Parents may reach for children's cold and cough medications to try to ease the sniffling and coughs. But safety concerns have recently emerged about these types of medicines when used in children. Parents can take some steps now to help keep their children safe.

Each year, about 7,000 children 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, according to a recent CDC study. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 are most often affected. Unfortunately, past studies have also uncovered a number of deaths in very young children who were inadvertently given too much of the medicines.

Safety concerns about cold and cough medications for young children prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month to recommend that parents forgo using these types of drugs in children less than age 2. The manufacturers have voluntarily withdrawn the drugs specifically meant for the youngest children, which should help further reduce the number of children negatively affected by these medicines. Meanwhile, the FDA is currently assessing whether the drugs are safe for use in children older than age 2.

During the most recent study, most of the children who went to the emergency room didn't need to be admitted to the hospital. But many needed treatments to prevent further absorption of the medications into their bodies.

Parents can help prevent these types of events and protect their children by taking the following advice:

  • Don't leave medicines where your child might be able to reach them.
  • Don't tell children that medicine is candy.
  • Don't take adult medications in front of your child.
  • Don't give children younger than age 2 medicines intended for older children.
  • Throw away cold and cough medicines for children less than age 2.

Manufacturing changes to packaging and formulation could also be useful in reducing hospital visits associated with cold and cough medicines, particularly those due to unsupervised ingestion. Some strategies to make the medications more difficult to access and less inviting to children could include bottle-top adapters, child-resistant single-dose packaging, and the removal of unneeded color additives.

The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.

Copyright Information: Public domain information with acknowledgement given to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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