Skip to main content

CDC Links 7,000 Pediatric Emergency Visits to Cough and Cold Meds

ATLANTA -- Retailers educating parents of the dangers cough and cold medicine can pose to their children are providing more than a service – they may potentially save lives, based on findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a study by published online yesterday in Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, an estimated 7,000 children aged 11 and younger end up in hospital emergency rooms each year because they took cough and cold medications.

Approximately two-thirds of these incidents were due to unsupervised ingestion -- children taking the medication without a parent’s knowledge. The study found that children ages 2 to 5 accounted for 64 percent of all adverse drug events from cough and cold medications, and nearly 80 percent of the events for this age group were from unsupervised ingestions. Among all age groups, 93 percent of children involved didn’t require hospital admission, but one-fourth needed additional treatment to eliminate the medicine from their bodies.

“Parents need to be vigilant about keeping these medicines out of their children’s reach,” warned Dr. Denise Cardo, director of CDC?s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, “They should refrain from encouraging children to take medicine by telling them it’s candy.”

Cardo also said adults should avoid taking medications in front of young children.

For the study, CDC researchers reviewed 2004-2005 data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System – Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance (NEISS-CADES) project that tracks emergency department visits due to cough and cold medications.

Recently, such products marketed to infants and toddlers less than two years old were voluntarily withdrawn from the market due to safety concerns. The safety of these products for children ages 2 to 11 is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Based on data revealed in the study, retailers can help by advising parents against treating young children with products intended for older children, and, as stated in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's mandated label warning, they should keep all cough and cold medications out of the reach of children.

OTC cough and cold products examined in the study include: decongestants (for unclogging a stuffy nose), expectorants (for loosening mucus so that it can be coughed up), and antitussives (for quieting coughs). Some may also have included antihistamines (for sneezing and runny nose) in combination with the ingredients above. The terms on the label could include “nasal decongestants,” “cough suppressants,” “expectorants,” and “antihistamines.”

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds