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Just as we are entering the peak cold and flu season, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with its Nonprescription Drug Advisory Committee issued a public health advisory for children under 2 years taking over-the-counter cold medicines. Specifically, this warning is for cold and cough remedies such as, Dimetapp, Little Colds, Pediacare, Triaminic, Tylenol and Robitussin. For a complete list of products that are being voluntarily recalled, visit the Consumer Healthcare Products Associations (CHPA) website at

The FDA has received reports of 54 infant deaths due to improper use of decongestants and 69 deaths due to antihistamines since 1969. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in a recent 2006 study confirmed that over 1500 babies experienced serious health problems
due to these cold/flu products and three deaths have been reported. All of them went to the emergency room and were diagnosed with overdose symptoms. The main problem is that the dosages for children under two are insufficiently tested in children and manufacturers design dosages decades ago based on children being “small adults”. There false assumption was that if it worked for adults, it must work with children. In fact, recent studies prove that cold remedies work no better than placebos.

The average child will get between 8 and 10 colds per year in their first two years of life. If your child is in daycare or if there are older siblings around, there could be more-that’s the bad news. However, the good news is that most of these colds will go away on their own. Colds are caused by viruses and these viruses are spread by either hand to hand contact or indirect exposure through the air or a contaminated surface area. Colds have a typical 5-7 day cycle and no medicine known as yet can cure it.

Realistically, though, when your baby or toddler has a small fever and is coughing and can’t breathe through their tiny noses, it’s hard to watch them suffer. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does have some alternative solutions to help your baby rest a little easier. One, if your baby is having trouble breathing through their nose, use a suction bulb before feeding them. Suction out the mucus from each nostril several times a day and this will allow for ease of eating and drinking. Two, if the secretions in their noses are particularly thick, use saline (saltwater) nose drops. These are available without a prescription and will naturally dilute the mucus which can then be suctioned out with a bulb. Thirdly, use a cool-mist humidifier at night in the room where they are sleeping. Be aware that these units do need daily cleaning to avoid bacteria or mold contamination. And lastly, keep your babies away from sick people if at all possible. More tips can be found at the AAP website at or through your own pediatrician.

Last year alone, the US manufactured over 800 different over the counter pediatric cough and cold products, with a total of 41 million sold. The medicine is out there, and in general, it is safe to use when dosage requirement s are followed. Generally speaking, most of these products are safe for children 6 years and above. Good rule of thumb is to write down each dosage given to any child; common problems occur when mom gives one dosage, then dad doesn’t know and gives another medicine. Frequently, different medicines could have similar ingredients and this leads to toxicity in children. If your child exhibits dangerous side effects such as hallucinations, seizures, rapid heartbeat, dizziness or confusion, see your doctor immediately or rush them to the emergency room.

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