Children under 6 should not take over-the-counter cough and cold medications

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

An article in the August 2008 journal Pedatrics investigated unexpected infant deaths in Arizona over a span of 1 year (2006) The common factor in 10 out of 21 autopsied babies (all under age 1) was that each had over-the-counter cough and cold medications in their system. Although this could not be confirmed as the cause of death, it is suspicious and just another reminder that children, of a certain age, should not be given these medications, ever. The article states that 123 deaths of children under 6 have been reported to the FDA in all.

Actually the FDA has already issued a warning against giving these meds to children under 2. The FDA’s Drug and Pediatric Advisory Committe says no one under 6. So what should do when your child is under 6 with a bad cough?

First is don’t be tempted. Throw away all of your pediatric over-the-counter cold and cough meds. Sure the cough is miserable for all, but not lethal. Secondly, determine whether the child should see a health care provider, for instance, is there a fever over 101.5, trouble breathing, a cough lasting over a week, or are you just worried? After the cough has been assessed and and the underlying problem treated (if needed) try increasing humidity with oral fluids and a humidifier. You could give honey as suggested in a former blog, since it has been found more effective than the otc’s anyway. Just don’t give the honey to children under 1 (see the “honey blog” comments.)

At your next visit talk what-to-do over with your doctor. If you have a child this age, chances are they will eventually have a troublesome cough.

Does anyone else have any home cures for a cough that have worked?

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6 Responses to “Children under 6 should not take over-the-counter cough and cold medications”

  1. cathy Says:

    My son has reactive airway disease, and we were told early on that a parent should never give cough medicine to a child (and that includes teenagers) because the lungs need to cough and it’s important not to shut down that process. Honey is a wonderful idea because it will coat the throat and shut down the tickly feeling that often causes a cough – the a child will still cough if he needs to clear his lungs. Anyway, I’m a firm believer that cough medicine should never be used on a child. Cold medicine is a little grayer for me, so I appreciate this article giving more info on the subject!

    cathys last blog post..Sweet potato cookies – yum!

  2. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Thanks for the insight, Cathy.

    As you know, reactive airways disease can be the cause of the cough sometimes. Treating it relieves the cougn.

  3. Steve Willits Says:

    I’m stuck wondering if Doctors are prescribing non OTC items for the kids if they are having a really hard time dealing with the cold?

  4. Dr. Hubbard Says:

    Thanks Steve,
    Excellent question, and one I am sure that doctors ponder.
    That would be the doctor’s, and parents, decision on an individual basis. There are also a few non-otc they might consider.

  5. Mark Salinas Says:

    My children are over six now, it is obviously a concern and should be looked at closer. Thanks!

    Mark Salinass last blog post..Heart Zone Training

  6. James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor Blog » Blog Archive » FDA rejects ban on children’s cold and cough medicines: CHPA to the rescue? Says:

    [...] But no one is putting a gun to your head.  Don’t use them in children under 6.  Instead try JHMFD’s tips. [...]

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