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Children's Health

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Cold Medicine Risky for Kids Under 2

Deaths and Emergency Department Visits Linked to Overdoses, CDC Report Shows

A Pediatrician's View

The CDC report is not the first finding that the medications can cause problems in young children, says Ian Paul, MD, a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa. Other studies have reached the same conclusion.

It's difficult to determine, he says, how widespread the problem is.

Part of the problem with adverse effects, he says, is that "many of these medicines have multiple ingredients. It's difficult for parents to realize they may be giving their child the same ingredient from two different medicines. If you give your child a cough medicine and a cold medicine, you may be doubling up on an ingredient."

Parents of young children should also know that the medications may not do much to relieve the symptoms, he says. "There are no studies demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of cold and cough medications in this under age 2 population," he says.

Since 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics has advised parents of young children that the cough suppressants dextromethorphan and codeine have not been proven effective in young children and have the potential for adverse effects, says Paul, a member of the Academy's executive committee for the section on clinical pharmacology and therapeutics.

In Lieu of Medications

Paul tells parents of young children to administer "comfort measures" when their child has a cough or cold, such as giving them plenty of fluids so they will stay hydrated.

"If your child is over 3 months, you can give acetaminophen for relief of discomfort," Paul says. "Ibuprofen can be given over age 6 months."

Saline nose drops can also help, he says. "Increasingly, pediatricians are recognizing that this is the right advice to give," he says.

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