Are cough syrups dangerous for children under the age of two?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the organisation responsible for the approval of medications in the United States, has issued an advisory warning against the use of cough syrups for toddlers under the age of two.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the organisation responsible for the approval of medications in the United States, has issued an advisory warning against the use of cough syrups for toddlers under the age of two. According to the FDA, cough syrups have caused hundreds of adverse reactions and even a few deaths in this age bracket.

The labels for these products clearly indicate that parents should consult a physician or paediatrician before administering cold medication to any child under the age of two. However, the FDA says that too many parents fail to comply with this recommendation.

Recent studies have demonstrated that cough syrups are no more effective than placebos. If today’s standards for drug approval had been in effect back when many of these cough syrups were approved, it is highly unlikely most of them would even be approved for use in children. They are only offered on pharmacy shelves because they were approved decades ago, when the standards for drug approvals were vastly different. Back then, it was often assumed that products that were effective and safe for adults would be so for children. This resulted in most cough syrups being put on the market without having been tested in children. Such assumptions are no longer acceptable.

Another part of the problem is the fact that many cold remedies on the market today actually combine different medicinal ingredients. Parents often do not realise that by administering cough syrup in combination with another type of cold remedy, they end up doubling the doses. Unfortunately, this is how children risk overdosing on medication. This problem also occurs with adults. Because we are so used to many of the over-the-counter medications that have been around for years, we simply wrongly think them benign.

As children tend to suffer from 6 to 10 colds each year, it is only too normal for parents to administer various medications in an attempt to alleviate their children’s symptoms and discomfort. It must be known that with or without medication, the common cold lasts anywhere between 7 to 10 days.

The FDA will address worrisome questions regarding cough syrups by assembling a panel of independent experts this fall. Many experts believe it is unlikely the FDA will completely ban the sale of these products. However, it may request that the warning labels be more explicit, or that this type of medication be kept behind pharmacy counters. This would compel parents to consult their pharmacist before purchasing these medications. The decisions taken by the FDA could translate in similar changes being enforced here in Canada.

Your little one is suffering from a cold? Before taking the matter into your own hands and having recourse to over-the-counter cold remedies, do the right thing and speak with your doctor or pharmacist. These experts can recommend the best course of treatment for your child according to age, height and weight. Medication is not always the best remedy!

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