It’s cold and cough season, but be careful when you reach for over-the-counter medications to treat your young child’s symptoms. Most orally administered cold and cough medications are not especially helpful in relieving symptoms. Worse yet, some of them can inadvertently cause very serious reactions in young children.

In January 2008, the FDA recommended against using cold and cough medication in children under 2 years due to “serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.” These effects included neurologic or behavioral changes (including extreme lethargy, unsteady gait, irritability, hyperactivity), allergic reactions, or even death.

Despite these dangers, a recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that nearly 10,000 children were treated in emergency departments for side effects from ingesting cold and cough remedies in the 14 months following the 2008 warning. Many of these emergency room visits related to incidents where young children accidentally got into medications and took them when caregivers weren’t watching. Others were excess doses of medications given by the adult to the young child due to confusion about dosing instructions or other adult error.

So, to keep your children safe, Dr. Bradshaw recommends that you:

  • Go through all your cabinets, drawers, baby bags, purses and other hiding places and take out all over-the-counter medications. Throw away outdated bottles. Put them away again all in ONE spot that is up and out of reach of young children.
  • Do NOT carry medications in your purse or baby bag. Children love to tear apart the contents of your bags, and may find medications stored there.
  • Review with your young children that all medications are not to be touched. Please don’t let your babies play with bottles of medicine (I see this often in my exam room, as a parent lets their babies entertain themselves by chewing on the top of a dropper-bottle of medication from the baby bag!).
  • Use non-medication techniques to ease your child’s cough and cold symptoms (see the purple box for suggestions).
  • Do NOT give over the counter cold and cough medications to your child under age 2 years!
  • If you give over the counter cold or cough remedies to your child over age 2 years, read the label very carefully. Medications are usually dosed on weight, so know your child’s weight before you pick the dose. Don’t mistake “tsp” (teaspoon) for “tbsp” (tablespoon). When in doubt, check the purple box or call Eugene Pediatrics to talk to us.
  • If you believe your child has accidentally ingested a medication, always call Oregon Poison Control at (800)222-1222.