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Think Twice Before Giving Cold Meds to Kids

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Dr. Alanna Levine explains the dangers.

baby receiving medicine

Dr. Alanna Levine: A 7-month-old baby died after accidentally being given children's cold medicine instead of infant cold medicine.

A tragedy such as this one is a sad reminder of the importance of following the recommended medication dosing instructions on the package. Labels must be read carefully. Parents need to be aware that even widely used over-the-counter medications are still MEDICATIONS with potential side effects and even toxicity if used incorrectly.

The parents of this infant who received a toxic dose of cold medication are not alone. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that many parents are confused by product labels, and even if a label reads, "Consult your doctor for children under the age of 2," parents still thought the medication was safe for infants.

An estimated 7,000 children under the age of 12 are treated in hospital emergency departments each year from ingestions of cold and cough medication, and over 100 children have died from them in the past 40 years.

In 2007, the FDA recommended the removal of all infant cough and cold preparations from the shelves. Studies have shown that they aren't particularly effective in relieving symptoms, and clearly they can be dangerous.

So, what can parents do for their children under 2 (and many pediatricians like myself would argue that this is true for children up to 4) with cough and cold symptoms? The safest and most effective strategies are:

1. Put a humidifier in the bedroom.
2. Use normal saline nose drops and a nasal aspirator for congestion.
3. Encourage fluids.
4. Use a fever reducer like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever.
5. Always check with your pediatrician before giving your children medication, even if it is an over-the-counter preparation.

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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
mom of 2 January 26, 2010, 4:52 AM

very good reminder article. I always ask the pharmacist what over the counter medication I can give my kids, even when they were babies. It only takes a minute and is well worth the time.

me January 26, 2010, 6:35 AM

And I always “pickle” my child’s feet soles with BABY vick’s….it works wonders!

Queen Bee January 26, 2010, 6:51 AM

A pharmacist can recommend what type of medicine to use but isn’t allowed to tell you dosage. You should still call your pediatrician for the correct amount to give your child. Pediatricians dose based off of the weight of your child and not necessarily the age so make sure you check.
When my child had a severe cold the doc told me to give Children’s Claritin/Baby Benedryl for the congestion and Tylenol for the fever. Or I could use a humidifier and give the kid some warm tea with a tsp of honey in it to help break up the congestion. My kid is 2. But again, call your doc.

Sandra January 28, 2010, 5:47 PM

Be careful when it comes to choosing Saline drops as most of them contain PRESERVATIVES. Preservatives are irritative and may create sensitization. My pediatrician recommended for my baby girl a very affordable natural saline solution: Cleanoz Saline preservative free in single use vials (

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