From the desk of DocSmo: More on OTC cold/cough medicines (Article)

Longtime listeners to the podcast will recall a pedcast called Spicy Feet in which I discussed the current thinking by health authorities when it comes to the use of cough and cold medicines in children younger than 4 years of age. For those of you who missed this episode, I recommend that you download it and listen. In a nutshell, complications from the use of cough and cold medicines are thought to be the primary culprits in causing about 1500 ER visits/ year in children. Over the past 20 years, cold and cough medicines are thought to have caused 123 child deaths and generated 750,000 phone calls to poison control centers. Clearly there is the potential for serious harm to come from these medicines.


At the same time, their benefit in children hasn’t really been proven. Before the advisory in 2008, parents would often ask me whether they should use these medications. My response was always, “Do you think they help?” They usually responded “No!” So why would you ever consider using them?  My opinion… marketing. Parents feel that by giving their children a “medicine,” they are doing the right thing. The images of a caring parent sitting on their child’s bed giving them a teaspoon of this or that medicine is a powerful image. Parents feel that if they “love” and “care” for their children they need to emulate this behavior.


So what has happened since the advisory was put out in 2009? Emergency visits for side effects from cough and cold medicines have dropped by half on a year to year basis in children less than 2 years of age. Visits to the ER by children over 2 years of age have not changed. Overall use of cough and cold medicines in children has dropped by 66%. Word travels fast. When they are right, they are right. Just because people have used a certain treatment or remedy for a long time doesn’t mean it is either safe or effective. In the era of computers and big data, we are about to find out what works and what doesn’t. Stay tuned.



Audio Digest, Tunkel, volume 57:08, April 2011.