Cough and Cold Medicine for Kids

It sometimes seems like there are more medicines than there are illnesses, making it difficult to discern which you should (or shouldn’t use) straight. After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a warning in 2008, recommending cough and cold medicine to be kept out of the reach of younger children, many parents and caretakers responded by avoiding the use of typical cold medicine for kids – and even other over-the-counter (OTC) medications in general. Concerned parents opted instead for alternative treatments, including those containing only homeopathic ingredients. Other parents continued to question whether or not these fears are unfounded. Here we seek to unveil the facts about medicine for kids.

Warnings Surrounding Cold Medicine for Kids
Digging a little deeper into the FDA’s public health advisory regarding children’s cold medicines, the initial statement stating that:

“Questions have been raised about the safety of these products and whether the benefits justify any potential risks from the use of these products in children, especially in children under 2 years of age.”

It is important to note that the majority of problems with children’s cold medicine, according to the FDA, typically take place when the medication is given improperly. If cold medicine is given too often or if more than one cold medicine is given with the same active ingredient, this is when problems are most likely to occur.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) eventually expanded the warnings surrounding cold medicine for kids to older children as well, stating that children should not use cold medication if they are under the age of four.

The numbers continue to climb. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is not recommended to give over-the-counter cough medicine or cold medicine to kids under age 6. In 2014, the AAP asked the FDA to make this recommendation, requesting that OTC cough and cold medicine manufacturers change their dosing to weight-based dosing rather than age-based, as weight is a better way to determine the correct dosage.

Additional Considerations and Risks Regarding Children’s Cold Medicines
One concern among caretakers of children is that cough and cold medicines were only studied in adults – not children. The results of the studies were merely applied to children, without ensuring that adults and children would react in the same way to the medications. Even in adults, the evidence fails to strongly prove that cough and cold medications make people get well any faster. They are also unable to keep colds from turning into something else, such as a sinus or ear infection or pneumonia.

Thousands of children end up in the emergency room annually after taking cold medicines, according to the CDC, with nearly two-thirds of those cases taking place after cough or cold medicine was taken by children while unsupervised.

Ingesting too much cough or cold medicine can bring about dangerous side effects. In addition to children taking the medication while not being supervised, children can also overdose if parents accidentally give too high a dose or mix medications with ingredients that do not interact well.

Furthermore, recent research continues to show that the efficacy of over-the-counter children’s cold medicines is low. The associated side effects of these medications, although the risk is low, do continue to persist – especially in young children, which continues to leave parents and caretakers concerned about the safety and thus distrusting of certain medicine groups.

Children’s Cold Medicines in Question
Four categories of cold medicines have been questioned by medical professionals and parents alike. These include:

  • Cough expectorants (guaifenesin), such as Mucinex:
  • Decongestants (phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine), such as Sudafed: Decongestants have the ability to help relieve symptoms of a stuffy or runny nose, but they have been shown to make some children irritable or hyperactive.
  • Cough suppressants (dextromethorphan or DM), such as Robitussin: Cough suppressants may help a child who has a cough that is interfering with sleep or daily activities. Some prescription cold medicines can cause drowsiness.
  • Some antihistamines (chlorpheniramine maleate, brompheniramine, and diphenhydramine), such as Benadryl or Claritin: Although often used for keeping a runny nose associated with allergies at bay, antihistamines offer effects that can help treat cold symptoms. They are also found in some cold medications, such as Children’s Dimetapp Cough & Cold Elixir and Vicks NyQuil Children’s Cold.

Should My Kid Use Cold Medicine?
Before deciding to give cold medicine to your child, keep in mind the recommendations from the FDA surrounding this type of medication.

  • Never give any adult medicine to a child. Only use medicines that have been designed for safe use by children.
  • Do not use any cold or cough medicine in children under the age of four, unless otherwise advised by a pediatrician.
  • Follow dosing instructions closely, as listed on the box.
  • Use the dropper, dosing cup, or measuring spoon that is included with any OTC kids medicine.
  • Never administer a cough or cold medicine to a child if he or she takes another prescription or over-the-counter medicine without first checking with a doctor.
  • Reach out to your child’s doctor if symptoms do not improve or worsen within a few days of first giving the medication.

It is also important to know that most children do not need cough and cold medicines. Some parents immediately reach for them at the first sign of a cold, but it is best to hold off. Below are more things you should consider before giving cough and cold medicines to your child:

  • Never give honey or any OTC medication (including homeopathic) to children under the age of 12 months of age due to the risk of botulism.
  • Use a saline nasal spray and suction bulb to give your child symptomatic relief of a cold, rather than cough and cold medicine. Also, put a humidifier in your child’s room and encourage plenty of fluids.
  • Allergy medicine does not help cold and cough symptoms if the illness is from a viral infection.
  • Don’t give any cold or cough medicine to your infant or toddler under the age of two for any reason.

Side Effects of Cold Medicine
If you choose to give your child medicine, watch for allergic reactions or other side effects. You may have received documentation from your pharmacist or may find product packaging with information regarding side effects.

If your child experiences hives, rash, diarrhea, or vomiting after taking medicine, reach out to your doctor.

If your child begins wheezing or has trouble breathing or swallowing, seek emergency medical care.

Some children develop drowsiness after taking cold and cough medicines or hyperactivity. Be sure to report to your doctor if this happens.

Remember to weigh the risks against the benefits when deciding whether to give your child cold and cough medicine and read the dosing carefully – and as always, keep the medicine out of the reach of children.

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