Should You Be Giving Cough & Cold Medicine To Your Kids?

There are varieties of cough and cold medicines available over the counter (OTC). The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that children under the age of two should never be given over-the-counter (OTC) cough or cold medications. However, most cough and cold products state that cough and cold medicine should not be given to children under the age of four.

Can I give my infant or child cold or cough medicine?

The short answer is probably not. The FDA says that over-the-counter cold medications should not be used in children younger than age 2.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend any over-the-counter cold medications for children younger than age 4.

The American College of Chest Physicians guidelines do not recommend cold and cough medications for children younger than age 15. For children younger than 15 years of age, they suggest that an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen (Advil, Children’s Advil/Motrin, etc.) or naproxen (Aleve) may be helpful with a cough. An anti-histamine (such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). A decongestant may help with post-nasal drip and cough suppression.

Which cold and cough medicines are not recommended for infants and children?

Four categories of drugs are not recommended for children under the age of four (or two, depending upon which guidelines you use), and include:

  1. Cough expectorants (guaifenesin)
  2. Cough suppressants (dextromethorphan, DM)
  3. Decongestants (pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine)
  4. Certain antihistamines like brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine maleate, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

What are the dangers of giving cold and cough medicine to infants and children?

Aspirin should never be given to infants and children because of its association with Reye’s syndrome, a condition that can cause swelling of the brain and liver. In the United States, the FDA recommends that aspirin should not be used in individuals 18 years of age and younger. In the United Kingdom, it is recommended that aspirin not be used in individuals 16 years of age and younger.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be toxic to the liver if too much is taken at once or over a period of a few days. The correct dose is always listed on the bottle, and it is important not to exceed the recommended amount. When in doubt, ask your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional about the safety of acetaminophen in infants and children. Moreover, it is important to remember that the amount of medication required is based on the child’s weight, not on their age.

Just because a cough or cold medication it is available over-the-counter, it does not mean that it is safe to use in all situations. Many cold medications depend on stimulants to shrink membranes and decrease nasal secretions. The body perceives phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine as adrenaline to the body. Antihistamines, like chlorpheniramine, brompheniramine, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can cause sleepiness (they are the active ingredient in many over-the-counter sleeping pills), but also may result in agitation and hallucinations.

Many drug companies sell products that contain combinations of medications. It is important to read the labels to make certain that the over-the-counter medication contains only the ingredients that are considered safe for infants and children. Read More

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