The Dangerous Cold Medicine Mistake Too Many Parents Are Making

Nearly half of all parents are giving cold medicines to kids who are too young

More than 40 percent of American parents give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to kids under age 4 even though they're too young for such products, a new survey finds.

In young children, these medicines can cause allergic reactions, increased or uneven heart rate, slow and shallow breathing, confusion or hallucinations, drowsiness or sleeplessness, convulsions, nausea and constipation.

Since 2008, labels on cough and cold medicines have warned that they should not be given to children under age 4. The use of cough and cold medicines in children in that age group did not differ by parent gender, race/ethnicity or household income, according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

The survey included 498 parents of children aged 3 and under.

Children can get five to 10 colds a year, so parents often turn to over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to relieve their child's symptoms. But that can be dangerous, the study authors stressed.

"Products like these may work for adults, and parents think it could help their children as well. But what's good for adults is not always good for children," survey director Dr. Matthew Davis said in a university news release.

Davis said parents can be confused by the fact that many of "these products are labeled prominently as 'children's' medications. The details are often on the back of the box, in small print. That's where parents and caregivers can find instructions that they should not be used in children under 4 years old."

Parents need to read cough and cold medication labels carefully and should always call their child's doctor if they have questions about over-the-counter medicines, Davis urged.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more for parents about cough and cold medications and children.

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