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Kids & Cold Drugs: Questions, Answers

Experts Answer Your Questions About Children's Cough and Cold Medicines

If the harmful effects of these drugs are due to overdose, why can't the FDA trust me to read the labels if I opt to give these medicines to my child? continued...

Paul:
A lot of the health decisions we make are on a population-based risk. If you look at population of young children as a whole, the side-effect profile -- given lack of benefit -- is unacceptable. In the middle of the night, even smart parents could overdose their children. If a mother gives a child a dose and doesn't tell the dad, an overdose can happen. There are so many ways misdosing can happen.

This is going to be very difficult for many families. It is hard not to have something available to give a suffering child. But if parents bear with the community of physicians and the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies, I expect a lot of research to happen in the near future. That is how we will find safe, effective cold and cough drugs with proper dosing for children.

Won't this make things even more dangerous, as parents will simply start buying adult versions of the drugs and guessing at child dosages?

Paul:
We hope that won't happen. It is a concern that parents would turn to adult doses or alternative remedies that could be dangerous. Hopefully there will be a lot of education to prevent that from happening.

Shannon:
It would be a very significant mistake for parents to do that. The mistake is thinking you can take a medicine meant for an adult, by simple math calculate a similar dose for a child, and expect a similar effect. The other real risk here is that a lot of these adult products have ingredients that really are not made for children -- such as alcohol. You could give a child alcohol poisoning.

Wouldn't clearer, easier-to-read labels solve this problem?

Paul:
Yes, it would. But if it were that easy, the drug companies would have done that a long time ago. Even medical professionals have trouble saying the names of these compounds. And from one company to the other, the labels give information in different ways. An alternative would be to require cold medicines to contain just one drug, and to call them by the drug name rather than by a brand name -- but that isn't likely to happen.

Can my pediatrician prescribe cold and cough medicines for my child?

Shannon:
There aren't any. There simply aren't any medications proven to improve the congestion or cough of a cold.

Paul:
At this time, there is nothing to prescribe for the common cold, other than waiting a couple of days.

If we can't use these products, what are we supposed to do when our little ones are sick?

Paul:
You can give them a non-aspirin pain reliever, acetaminophen or ibuprofen. You can give them saline nose drops or spray. You can use an air humidifier in their bedrooms. And you can make sure they drink plenty of fluids.

Shannon:
Really, the only thing the parents can do is give Tylenol [or other brands of acetaminophen] or Motrin [or other brands of ibuprofen] for fever, make sure the child stays hydrated, and wait.

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