March 2, 2007

Children's Cold Medicines Are [Check All That Apply]: Untested, Useless, Potentially Dangerous

But hey, at least they're in BPA-free plastic bottles!

At the urging of a petition submitted by a group of prominent pediatricians and public health officials, the FDA will begin a "broad review of the safety of popular cough and cold remedies meant for children," with a focus on how these medicines are used with children under two years of age.

Turns out all the active ingredients in infant and children's cough & cold remedies were essentially grandfathered into the FDA regulatory system because of decades of use in adults, and so they've never been systematically tested or researched for use in kids.

Unknown dosages, nothing but guesswork, rare but potentially life-threatening side effects, no better than placebos, $2 billion/year market...

I'm having a hard time getting motivated to recap this story, frankly. We have followed the guesswork dosages recommended by our pediatrician, most of the time the kid seemed to respond and feel better. If a placebo will do the same, please tell me where I can buy it.

We also pay attention and try to avoid giving her medicines she doesn't need. If she just has a cough, we don't give her cough+cold, for example. The overdose thing has happened a couple of times, ususally while tag teaming with a sick kid during a sleepless night.

The things that actually got me thinking, not that they surprised me:

The agency [i.e., the FDA] has for decades promised to review systematically the safety of all old drugs, but for a variety of reasons like budgetary constraints, time and popularity of a particular drug has not done so.
And the study that showed more than 1 in 3 3-yo's were on cold medicine during a given month.

Meanwhile, the only reason we can even have this discussion now is because parents in the 19th century kept their kids knocked out all day with opium so they could go to work. [The Industrial Revolution just called. They said, "You're WELCOME."]

U.S. Reviewing Safety of Children’s Cough Drugs [nyt]
Officials Push for Cough Syrup Warning [baltimoresun]

4 Comments

Aren't adult cough medicines nothing but placebos, as well?

We've also found that lollipops can cure almost anything...

Lollipops truly are the wonder drug of the 21st century.

Are there any approved-safe cough/cold remedies out there for children?

I'm in the UK so we have different medicines here but the same problem. My son has had a bad chesty cough for 3 weeks, but is not serious enough for antibiotics (thank goodness, they're overprescribed). He's 18 months.

Both the GP and the health visitor (like a district nurse, but available to all mums until their children are 5, and visit the elderly) have said not to bother with cold or cough remedies. THey are either just sugar and water solutions to make your throat feel a bit better, or have dubious compositions that mask but don't cure the symptoms. The advice is to just give them Calpol (liquid paracetamol), nurofen (ibuprofen) or Medised (paracetamol and antihistamine). Anything else just doesn't do the job.

I also throw blueberries, clementines and pomegranates down his throat until they are going out of style. The overload of vitamin C and antioxidants seems to do the trick and stop the cough/cold in its tracks. Natural but it works.

There are some homeopathic children's cough and cold remedies that I am told work but they are equally untested and unregulated, so I am not keen (apart from arnica for bruises and rescue remedy for shock, which rock!).

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