Bigger Kids

Parents are still giving kids unsafe cough and cold medicine

We all want to help our kids when they're sick. But giving them cough and cold medicine could make them even sicker.

medicine-article Photo: iStock

I don't judge, but I've never really understood why some parents, when faced with a kid in pain, do everything they can to avoid giving over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers—Advil, Tylenol and the like. As long as the right dosage is used, these medications have been proven safe, and they're usually effective.

The same can't be said, however, for OTC cough and cold medicines. Back in October 2009, Health Canada forced these products—which usually contain some combination of decongestants, cough suppressants and antihistamines—to be relabeled to state that they shouldn't be used in kids younger than six. Why? Because they aren't proven to work on little kids, and in some cases, they can cause serious adverse reactions, like heart palpitations or high blood pressure. If a young child is accidentally given too much of these meds, they can even cause seizures and comas.

Unfortunately, a new study in the Canadian Journal of Public Health shows that those warning labels aren't working particularly well. Researchers  looked at parents' use of OTC cough and cold medicine in kids under six before and after the label change, and found that usage only dropped a bit. About 22% of parents used it on their sick kids before the label change, and almost 18% after it. The researchers also found that kids with moms under 35 were more likely to have been given OTC cough and cold meds, as were kids with an older sibling.

So are parents knowingly defying the labels and putting their kids risk? Or are they just unaware? The researchers think the latter, and suggest that the warnings should be made more prominent, and that those medication should maybe even moved behind the pharmacist's counter. I, for one, think it would also be great if doctors and paediatricians could help spread the word, since they're the ones we often rush to when our kids are ill.

This article was originally published on Mar 17, 2016

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