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Hand In Hand Pediatrics
725 River Road, Suite 208,     Edgewater, NJ 07020  |  tel: 201.840.8055
(We are located next to Trader Joe's)

Cold Medications and Children:
           Risks vs. “Benefits”

          By: George Chai, MD FAAP

As parents, we often feel helpless when our children comes down with symptoms of a cold such as copious amounts of coughing, congestion and runny nose. Our first instinct is to run to the pharmacy to find some over the counter (OTC) medication that can take care of the problem. Although, OTC cold medications have been around a long time, evidence has suggested that they are not as safe as initially thought.

In 2008, the US FDA issued an advisory recommending that over the counter cold medications should not be given to infants and children under 2 years old. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports this recommendation. The reason being OTC medications have been shown to be ineffective while bearing significant side effects.

Multiple studies have shown that cough and cold preparations are ineffective in treating symptoms of children under six years old. A study released in 2007 showed that many children have died after the use of OTC cough and cold medications. All of the deaths were under 2 years old. A recent case from New York in December 2010 involved a four months old child dying after administration of cough medicine. In addition to death, other side effects include convulsions, rapid heart rates and lethargy.  

While uncomfortable, cold and cough symptoms are self-limiting. OTC cough and cold medications neither cure nor shorten the duration of illness.  Parents should seek safer alternatives.  

Safer alternatives include saline nose drops and suctioning it out with a bulb suction, humidifiers to prevent nasal congestion, elevation of head to decrease post-nasal drip, use of antihistamines (like benadryl) only to help children sleep better but doesn't improve congestion or secretions, honey water for coughing  (only for children older than 1 year old). A vaporizer has recently been shown to help congestion as well.

So what do you think? Do you usually give your child OTC cold medicines in case of a cold? We would love your comments and thoughts. Email comments and questions to handinhandpeds@gmail.com or send us a note via website.


Article written by Dr. George Chai

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