CDC: Cold and Cough Medicine May Be Unsafe for Infants

The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning today about the potential hazards of administering over-the-counter cough and cold medicine to infants. Citing the deaths of three infants associated with the drugs, the CDC urged all parents to consult with medical professionals before giving the medicine to their young children.

In the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published today, the CDC notes, “Cough and cold medications that contain nasal decongestants, antihistamines, cough suppressants, and expectorants commonly are used alone or in combination in attempts to temporarily relieve symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection in children aged [less than] 2 years. However, during 2004-2005, an estimated 1,519 children [under the age of 2] years were treated in U.S. emergency departments for adverse events, including overdoses, associated with cough and cold medications.”

The CDC’s report “identified deaths of three infants aged 6 months [and under] in 2005, for which cough and cold medications were determined by medical examiners or coroners to be the underlying cause.” (The FDA has not set a target dosage for children in that age group because it has not been proven that these medications are effective in treating that cohort.)

Last year, the American College of Chest Physicians advised health-care providers to refrain from recommending over-the-counter cough medications for young children because of the associated risks of severe adverse effects. According to the CDC, “Caregivers should only administer cough and cold medications to children in this age group when following the exact advice of a clinician. Clinicians should be certain that caregivers understand 1) the importance of administering cough and cold medications only as directed and 2) the risk for overdose if they administer additional medications that might contain the same ingredient.”

The CDC recommends saline nose drops or a cool-mist humidifier, followed by the use of a rubber suction bulb, as a safer treatment alternative.

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