Parents continue to give OTC cough, cold treatments to young children despite FDA warnings

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Parents continue to give OTC cough, cold treatments to young children despite FDA warnings

In a couple of past blogs, FDA: Skip OTC remedies to treat colds in young children and Cold medicines and children: a dangerous mix? I’ve warned parents about the dangers of using over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications in children. However, many parents have missed the memo.
The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reports, “More than half of parents continue to give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children under the age of 2, despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration that the medications are not effective and that they have poisoned or killed hundreds of children,” according to a poll released by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In 2008, the FDA issued a warning on the drugs, “which prompted a voluntary recall of many of the products. … ‘Unfortunately, this latest poll indicates that the FDA warnings have gone unheeded by the majority of parents and, surprisingly, many physicians,'” said Dr. Matthew Davis, Director of the hospital’s National Poll on Children’s Health.
According to a report in HealthDay, the survey of more than “300 parents of children ages 6 months to 2 years found that 61 percent of parents gave OTC cough and cold medicines to their children within the last 12 months.”
In addition, more than 50 percent of the parents “said their child’s doctor said the medicines are safe for children under 2 years, and about half reported that their doctor said the medicines are effective.”
I’ve written a blog, Tips on giving over-the-counter cold (OTC) medications to children over 4 years old, that may help you with older children. But, what about younger children? Here are some of my tips:

  • Saline nose spray can help alleviate stuffy noses.
  • A humidifier can help moisturize kids’nasal passages.
  • Plenty of fluids: Any warm liquid — apple juice even water — can help relieve congestion and sooth throats. (Avoid citrus because it can irritate throats.)
  • Plenty of rest: Naps, lounging and taking it easy is key to recovery.
  • Popcicles can help soothe throats and provide a source of liquid.
  • Hot or cold packs: Apply around congested sinuses. Both can make you feel more comfortable, but avoid hot packs if the child is running a fever. That will only raise the temperature.
  • Gargling with warm saltwater can bring temporary relief to a sore throat. But practice with plain water to make sure your child can gargle. (Generally kids need to be 6 or 7 before they can gargle.)
  • Vaseline: Place a small dab on the upper lip to alleviate chafing from a runny nose.
  • Peach syrup: Drain the heavy syrup from canned peaches in heavy syrup and drink it to help soothe sore throats. (Note: Honey is often recommended to help sooth sore throats but doctors say parents should not give it to children under 2 because of the risk of infant botulism, a rare type of food poisoning only affecting little ones.)
  • Chicken soup: It’s warm. It’s easy on the tummy and you can just taste the TLC of homemade soup. (Just make sure to limit salt since that can cause dehydration.)

With or without over-the-counter drugs, it’s sometimes hard to know when the is the right moment to make an appointment with your child’s physician. Here are the conditions that suggest it’s time to see the doctor:

  • A fever accompanied by vomiting or rash.
  • Difficulty breathing: if your child is flaring nostrils, breathing fast (more than 40 times a minute) or working hard to breathe.
  • If your child has a fever of more than 102. A baby under six months with a low grade fever of 100.2 should be seen by doctor.
  • If your child is sick for more than a week, even if there is no fever present. He could have a sinus infection or ear infection that needs treatment.
  • Trust your parental instincts. Signs that something is wrong: a child who seems very lethargic; or a child who, after being given medicine, does not transition into a short period of playfulness.

More important than any list I can give you is for mom’s to trust their intuition. If you think, “This just doesn’t seem like my child,” have the little one seen by a doctor.


  1. Dave G says:

    I get requests for cough medicine frequently from parents, and usually they’re more receptive than I expect when I explain the dangers. It helps having kids so that I can say “This is what I give my kids…”

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