Cold Meds

Updated on January 21, 2008
A. asks from Clearfield, UT
16 answers

I have been trying to take in all the news on the harm of giving OTC cold meds to kids especially under age 2. In doing some online research, I am having a hard time understanding exactly what the issues are. I have read that giving the meds to young children can cause serious side effects, but I can't figure out what they are. Also, it seems like many of the reported problems have been associated with overdose rather than using the meds properly.

I have given my children ages 3 1/2 and 6 cold meds in the past as a last resort after trying everything else including a humidifier, and it seems like the meds really helped. Now they are saying that they don't work. I am so confused and seeing how my children have taken these meds in the past I am a little concerned. Do any of you have a better understanding of all this? To those who have given their children cold meds, how have they reacted to them?

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answers from Lansing on

Hi A.~ I agree with the rest of the ladies that the overdoses are b/c of parents not reading the dosage label correctly or thinking that if they give them a little more than the recommended dose it will help them even more. I was always told to go by weight and not age - even by my doctor. I am the mom of 3 boys ages 5 yrs, 4 yrs and 3 months and have never had any problems with medicating them when they are sick. I have specifically found that I like Children's NyQuil for nighttime relief and Mucinex for daytime relief. Upon the onset of all this controversy, I talked with my doctor and he said the only medication with multisymptom meds combined that is actually FDA approved is Mucinex (both adults and children) So he recommended always using this brand of medication - (I mentioned I used NyQuil at night and he said that was a good medicine as well). Mucinex (unlike NyQuil) also gives dosage for children ages 2 and up, which most of them don't. I found this info very helpful and have had no reservations using this medication (or the NyQuil b/c I have found it to really work well). I hope this helps!

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answers from Omaha on

From my pediatrician....he says that really nothong has changed. They recommendation to stop using these meds in children under two came about because of the frequent misuse of these drugs with this age group. Parents were combining medications and giving too large of dose, or too frequent of dosing. This was causing serious problems with the children.

He said there is no reason to stop giving it to children over 2, their bodies have developed enough to handle the medications.

I have stopped all meds, except tylenol, with my 1.5 yr old and continue to provide the other meds to my 5 yr old. I am, however, very conservative with meds. I only ever provide one dose, at bed time, and only if they really are sick.....

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answers from Saginaw on

A., One of the things suggested is give only when absolutely necessary, try your natural food store for cold meds, see what they offer. Also, Peppermint or eucliptis oil in a pan of water on the stove is a great decongestant. peppermint tea with honey is good too. Look for more natural ways to help your children when they have a cold. You will feel much safer. If you want some clear info on cold meds, ask your pharmacist or pharmacist assistant, they always have clear info they can print out and discuss with you. The companies themselves, ie.
Pfizer... (look on the box) have info you can download. They want it to be clear to you, it is partly their liability! Good luck. K.

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answers from Hickory on

Hi A.,
We stopped taking OTC stuff because it slows down their little bodies natural immune responses for big and little things. I now give my kids homemade (quick/easy) cough medicine. Here is a link to recipes...

Here is a book that I use...
Homeopathic Self Care Book
Homeopathy Is Now as Easy as 1, 2, 3
Homeopathy is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. More and more people are realizing that it really does work, and can be used to treat a wide range of common health problems. Now, thanks to a new book by best-selling authors Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman and Robert Ullman homeopathy can be used easily, safely, and effectively by anyone.
In Homeopathic Self-Care: The Quick and Easy Guide for the Whole Family, readers will learn to recognize and treat more than 70 specific conditions using a clear, step-by-step approach. It really can be as easy as 1, 2, 3 if you look, listen, and ask the right questions.
The book is clearly written, and organized in an easy-to-use format that will appeal to anyone interested in learning more about homeopathy. In addition, dozens of the most commonly used homeopathic medicines are listed; a glossary is included; and there are tips for obtaining a homeopathic self-care medicine kit.

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answers from Provo on

I agree with everyone else's advice, it's mainly because of overdosing or incorrect usage. I also think that many people drug up their kids at the first sign of one tiny sniffle, cough or sneeze.
I have 3 children (8,5,2) and use cold/cough medicine as a last resort, but it does help when it's given correctly and for the right symptoms.
And like others have said, if you're still unsure, call a Pediatrician you trust, that's their job :)
Also, I have found that the pharmacists are very helpful, if you have any questions about an OTC medicine they can generally give you any answers, and advice about it and what is best. GL!

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answers from Salt Lake City on

I thought the original reason for the medication recalls was because too many parents were overdosing their kids and then sueing the manufacturers. Too many parents were giving their kids multi-symptom medicine, with cough med, runny & stuffy nose med & acetaminophen, and then overdosing them by giving them another dose of acetaminophen.. not realizing the multi-symptom medicine already tylenol.
I've heard that a spoonful of honey is supposed to be just as good as cough syrup. (That was on the news just a few weeks ago, but I've never tested the theory) I'm a big fan of vaporizers and vicks vapor rub, myself. All this confusion really makes me wonder if the bottom line isn't just $$$$$$money.

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answers from Bismarck on

From what I gather, a lot of the concern stems from parents accidently overdosing their children. Many of the children's cough and/or cold meds do not give dose amounts for children under the age of 2, and some (especially the generic versions, I've noticed)don't list dosages for under the age of 6. Unless a parent has a similar medication in the house to compare to, they are kind of left guessing. Also, another concern is that parents may give one formula for a cold, and another for a cough, not realizing that one of the ingredients (for example, decongestants) might be in both medicines, thus overdosing on that one ingredient. Children can (and do) die from extreme overdoses of medicines such as Benedryl, so I suspect the extreme measures are meant to prevent those few rare cases.
I think if a parent is going to use one of these medicines, there are a few key things to keep in mind:
1.) Choose a medicine that is AGE APPROPRIATE for your child.
2.) Choose a brand that clearly states the dosage for your child's age. If you are comparing between two bottles, make sure you are looking at the mg/teaspoon of each ingredient.
3.) Always use the measuring cup that comes with the bottle, or better yet, a medicine dropper, so that you are getting an accurate measurement. NEVER use a teaspoon or other kitchen utensil.
4.) Follow the dosage times; sometimes it seems like the medicine wears off before the 4-6 hours, but it is important to stick to that time regimen.
5.) Don't use these medicines to mask your child's illness so that you can just send them to school or daycare, despite their illness. Even though it is a headache for working parents, it is not fair to your child or their school/daycare. Take time out of your busy schedule so that your child can get the rest they need, and not expose other kids.
6.) Following the recommendations to increase fluids, use a humidifier in certain cases, and use a cream that will help open up their sinuses, really does help. There is some research that the Canada Research Council did, comparing the effectiveness of cough medicine vs. a vapor rub used on the feet, to combat nighttime coughing. In EVERY single case, the vapor rub was more effective than the cough medicine! You can use a Vicks Vapor Rub, or a great herbal formula like Arbonne's Herbal Vapor Rub, put on the bottom of the feet, then put on socks. Not only is this very soothing, but it is effective. I have put this to the test this fall and winter, with both my kids and myself (using the Arbonne product) and was amazed at how effective it was! I was really sick for a week, and even when I resorted to NyQuil for nighttime, I couldn't get relief for my cough until I put that vapor rub on my feet. You can also apply it to the chest and, if your child can tolerate it, a bit under the nose.
I agree that it is difficult as a parent to know how to handle coughs and colds with all of the new information coming out...I have a 13 yr-old, 6 yr-old, and 4 yr-old, and while I have used over-the-counter-cold medicines for all of my children, I do try to use other measures first, but if I do use medicines, it is just use them for bedtime. If a parent really thinks their child could benefit from a medicine but are unsure of what kind, or how much, they should definitely call their pediatriciain's office. Most health providers have an advice nurse available, and they would be able to advise on the appropriate medicine and dosage.The time may come when these products are simply pulled off the shelves, so the more ideas for natural remedies moms can share, the better!

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answers from Rapid City on

I am a pharmacist and as I have had lots of questions regarding this I have done quite a bit of research on the reasoning behind the removal of the OTC cold medicines. In most cases it is due to accidental overdose. The "infant" cold medications are much more concentrated than the "childrens" formulations. Which is in order to not have to give such a large amount of fluid to a little body. In other words there is much more medication in each milliliter of "infants" medication than there is in each milliliter of "childrens" formulations. However many parents are unaware of this fact and if they don't read the bottle, they think if I use a teaspoonful of the "childrens" cold medicine, then I can use a teaspoonful or more of the "infants" formulation because if it's for an infant it shouldn't be as strong...where in reality by giving an equal amount of medication they may be giving upto 5x the dose. In MOST cases, if the medication is dosed correctly, it would be perfectly safe for use in children under 2. However, there are also a handful of reports, showing resperatory depression and even death in children under 2 which have occured even when the medication was dosed correctly. The reasoning behind this is not known and requires more study. For your children because of their ages they should be able to safely use a "childrens" formulation. (although for your 3½ year old you should get one without an antihistamine, because they are not recommended for children under 5, except for claritin syrup which you can use in children as young as 2, but that does not come in a multi-symptom cold product). Your pharmacist should be able to recommend a product based on their symptoms and give you appropriate dosing based on their weight. For a cough in a child over 1, honey is an excellent cough suprresent. (should not be used in children under one because their immune systems are not fully functional yet and there is a chance of getting botulism (food poisoning) from the honey. Nasal saline is also safe to use for congestion in all ages of children, and I have used it a couple of times for my 9 month old with relatively good results. (I don't use the cold medications, because even though the risk is very, very minimal of something adverse happening, that is not a risk I am willing to take with her). Hope this helps...

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answers from Salt Lake City on

My understanding of the OTC cold med crisis:

1-high percentage of parents are giving higher doses of the medicine than they should.

2-No one's ever proved (clinically) that cold medicine works on children under 2.

I still use the OTC meds--mostly Tylenol. I have a daughter who's teething. I double check her weight and use the online charts to determine the correct dosage.

If you're still worried, you should talk to your kids' doctor. If they're not due for a wellness checkup, you can always call their office and tell them you have a question. Usually a nurse will go ask the doctor and then come back and tell you the answer.

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answers from Benton Harbor on

From working in a drs office, I can tell you that it is 100% user error. Parents are giving too much medicine too often or, in some cases, a complete wrong dose by using medicine made for older children/adults and trying to 'adjust' the dose by guess-work. OTC meds are strong meds and they are meant to be given under strict dosing guidelines. Personally, there are some meds that do wonders for my kids and some that aren't worth the money. We have great luck with Triaminic (by recommendation of our ped.) but no luck with Tylenol or Robitussin...other kids may have the exact opposite experiences. Use common sense and do everything you can in addition to meds, but my theory is that colds are miserable to adult who understand why we are feeling bad. Imagine how a small child must feel! If I can help ease my childs symptoms a bit and be confident that I am giving a correct dose, that is what I choose! Good luck to you...if in doubt, call the ped. it's what they are there for!

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answers from Davenport on

I spoke with my doctor about this when both my children had nasty colds. She said that the recall and warning is because many parents do not give the correct dosage which in turn creates the problems. The medicines work, but if you take the kids to the doctor you can get a prescription cold/cough medicine that also works great, and you don't have to worry about all the hype. Hope this helps.

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answers from Salt Lake City on

I have a 2 1/2 year old and he was recently sick over and over again and I gave him some cold medicine and it seemed to help him right away and he got over the cold...he had no side effects or anything to worry about, he just got better. I've heard a lot of the same stuff on the news and I am as confused as you are, I don't want my son to be harmed at all but I give him the cold medicine because it really helps him a ton, I do keep to the same cold medicine I don't switch around just because I know the kind we use works. I hope this helps. =) Good luck understanding...if you do figure it out let me know. =)

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answers from Boise on

The problem is in accidental overdosing, parents aren't reading the packages and measuring it out properly, or they are giving a little more then the recommended dosage thinking it will work better, I have 7 kids and have always used cold meds, I must admit I don't think they do a whole lot of good but a little relief is better then none, anyways you need to give according to weight not age, they are safe so long as they are done properly.

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answers from Salt Lake City on

I beleive they claim that the medicines don't work on children under the age of two (although I've always found that they did when I gave them to my children - under doctors orders). I do believe that most of these issues have been from accidental overdoses from parents who either don't read the instructions or don't realize (by not reading the ingredients) that by giving more than one medication, they are potentially overdosing their child. To me, it's more of the "one bad apple spoils the bunch", so they say let's take the medicines out of the store so the few can't inadvertantly harm their children. Frankly, I think the FDA doesn't give enough credit to intelligent parents and I think there are also too many parents that are naive to believe that if it's an OTC medicine, it's always going to be safe.

I've always given my children cold medicine when they've needed it and it's always made them feel better. I will continue to do so even though the FDA doesn't seem to think I'm intelligent enough to decipher instructions or read ingredients, amounts and proper dosage. I don't hesitate to take something to make me feel better, I can't imagine making my children suffer needlessly.



answers from Boise on

I agree with your concerns. I have a 16 month old who when she gets colds usually needs to use a nebulizer as well as vaporizer and cold medications. I have had to adapt the 2 year old dosage of cold medicine to about half the dose in hopes that it would give her some relief. Seems that these medications aren't the culprets of all these recalls, but the adults that over use these products instead of taking their kids to the doctor when needed.



answers from Omaha on

Sudaphed made my kids unable to sleep, but they did breath better. Benedryl has worked well for my children. If you look this up on the Dr. Sears web site you can get some good info about side effects and dosing.

My understanding is that it is okay to give the cold meds for 1 or 2 days, but giving it constantly for several days or more can build up in the system and become toxic. It probably has to do with the half life of the drug and how long it takes to be discreated out of the body. You might even ask a pharmacist about it.

I wouldn't worry about your children, they are fine. I think the biggest issues is the dosing for children. I still use cold meds, but I'm very careful. I disagree with the statements that the meds don't work anyway. That is bull! I've seen benedryl help my infant son breath better so then he can get his sleep and when he gets his sleep he can heal faster. Makes sense to me.

10 years ago I had a pharmacist tell me that benedryl was the best for colds and that I could give it to my infant. He said he had given it to all his children. I suggest you check out the Dr. Sears Web site.

Good luck!

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