FDA Warns Cold Meds Can Be Dangerous

By Christina Elston

UPDATE: August 15, 2007: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a public health advisory warning parents against the use of over-the-counter cough and cold in children under 2 years of age.

Health Notes Archives - Click Here 
APRIL 2007: When your baby or toddler gets the sniffles, or even a nagging cough, resist the urge to grab a bottle of over-the-counter cold or cough medicine. Bad reactions to these types of medications sent more than 1,500 babies and toddlers to emergency rooms during 2004 and 2005, according to a recent report by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Three of the children died.

The agency is warning parents not to give over-the-counter cold medications to children under age 2 without consulting a doctor. "It's very difficult to determine doses of these medications in young kids," says Alan Nager, M.D., director of emergency medicine at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Side effects from the medications can include agitation, restlessness, vomiting, increased heart rate and, in rare cases, seizures. Babies tend to be more sensitive to medications than older children, according to Nager, and some infants are more susceptible to side effects than others. "Babies may be predisposed to mild or life-threatening side effects depending on their sensitivity to the medication. And that's unpredictable," he says.

Even if they don't cause side effects, cold medications could mask symptoms and cause you to delay seeking medical attention for a serious illness. They can also stifle the protective effects of a cough, causing mucus to be sucked into the lungs. "Kids cough for a reason," Nager says. "It's a protective reflex."

Instead of medicating your child's mild cough and cold symptoms, try the following:

  • Treat a fever. Kids with fever can feel pretty miserable, so take your child's temperature and give the appropriate dose of Tylenol™ if needed.

  • Suction that nose. Use a bulb to suction mucus from your child's nose so he or she can breathe easier.

  • Give adequate fluids. Dehydration also makes kids uncomfortable, and fluid intake helps loosen congestion and calm a cough.

If your child is really uncomfortable, Nager suggests the "steamy shower" plan he used with his own children. Run a hot shower to make the bathroom warm and steamy, and take your baby into the room for half an hour. This will loosen the congestion and allow you to do a good job of suctioning his or her nose. A baby who can breathe easier will be more comfortable drinking, so the last step is to offer the breast, bottle or cup to give your child needed hydration.

If, after all of this, your child is still miserable, call your doctor for further help.

More Health Updates

  • For more timely family health information and tips, check out Current Health Notes

  • Health Note Archives
    Short health notes on the latest developments in family medicine. Keep up to date on the latest medical news which has an immediate impact upon you, your family, and your children.

Christina Elston is a senior editor and health writer for Dominion Parenting Media.