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Many parents improperly give cold medicine


Many adults give young children medicines they should not use, according to a poll.

More than 40% of parents reported giving children under age 4 cough medicine or multi-symptom cough and cold medicine, and 25% gave their children decongestants, according to the latest University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

In 2008, the FDA issued an advisory on avoiding the use of such medications in infants and children under age 2. The medications have not been proven effective for young children and may cause serious side effects, said Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

In response to the FDA, manufacturers of over-the-counter cough and cold products changed their labels in 2008 to state that the medicines should not be used for children younger than 4.

“These products don’t reduce the time infection will last, and misuse could lead to serious harm,” Davis said. “What can be confusing, however, is that often these products are labeled prominently as ‘children’s’ medications. The details are often on the back of the box, in small print. That’s where parents and caregivers can find instructions that they should not be used in children under 4 years old.”

The side effects from use of cough and cold medicines in young children may include allergic reactions, increased or uneven heart rate, drowsiness or sleeplessness, slow and shallow breathing, confusion or hallucinations, convulsions, nausea and constipation.

The poll found that use of the cough and cold medicines in children age 4 and under did not differ by parent gender, race/ethnicity or household income. “Products like these may work for adults, and parents think it could help their children as well,” Davis said. “But what’s good for adults is not always good for children.”

Davis said parents need to be vigilant about reading the directions and should always call their pediatrician or healthcare provider about questions regarding over-the-counter medications. “Because young children often suffer from cold-like symptoms, more research is needed to test the safety and efficacy of these cough and cold medicines in our littlest patients.”

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