According to last month’s poll by researches at the University of Michigan, 42% of parents gave over-the-counter cough and cold medications to their children under the age of 4. Additionally, 44% gave them multi-symptom cough and cold medications. And 25% gave these toddlers decongestants. The survey comes a whopping five years after these drugs’ packages included warnings against using them in very young children.
In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration advised that these medications not be given to children under the age of 2. The previous year, an agency advisory committee had determined that children younger than 6 shouldn’t take these medications. It was even suggested that these medications didn’t help young children. The FDA said that some of the drugs might be associated with side effects and some deaths in very young patients, primarily due to overdoses.
Manufacturers followed the FDA’s advice and put warnings on their products’ boxes saying they shouldn’t be given to children under the age of four. Medications containing these warnings contain dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, gauifenesin, an expectorant and the decongestants phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine. Medications with antihistamines warn against use in children younger than six. Major brand names of these medications include Novartis, Pfizer, Triaminic, Dimetapp and Robitussin.
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association represents makers of these over-the-counter medications. It said most cases of side effects involve children taking the meds without parental supervision. It went on to say that the drug facts panel should remain on the back of the packaging rather than the front. But of course, putting the warning on the front might mean parents would actually READ it.
In spite of these and other so-called efforts to alert parents, a study in 2010 published in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development found that about 1/3 of parents had never heard of the FDA’s recommendations. Of those who had, 1/3 planned to continue giving these meds to their children. A 2011 poll from the University of Michigan showed that 61% of parents with children 2 and younger had given them cough and cold medications. And yet another study recently published in Clinical Pediatrics found that 82% of 65 parents of children younger than 6 said they would use the medications. Almost 3/4 of those parents said they would administer the wrong dose. In fact, some parents read the instructions and just made up their own dose. So the misuse of these medications is not just the fault of the manufacturers, but some parents as well. Apparently parents become frustrated because there are not enough medications out there to help their young children, and out of desperation, use the medications designed for older children.