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FDA advisory says popular cold and cough medicines are neither useful nor effective for children under the age of 2.


Jan. 17, 2008 – Prevention and natural treatment of your child’s coughs and colds is more important now that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory urging parents and caregivers not to use over-the-counter cough and cold medicines when treating children younger than 2. The advisory, which includes decongestants, antihistamines, cough expectorants and suppressants, warns of serious and potentially life-threatening side effects. (Click here to read the FDA's advisory)


Dr. Heidi Sallee, M.D., F.A.A.P., pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and assistant professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine, has some advice for what parents can do to keep their kids healthy during the cold winter months.


Q:  Why did the FDA issue this recommendation?


A:  There have been reports of accidental overdose fatalities among children who took cough and cold medicines.  In most cases, mom didn’t realize that dad had already given the medicine to the child.  It’s not common, but it has happened.  In addition, ingredients in the drugs can cause adverse side effects such as increased heart rate and decreased breathing function. 


Q:   Are specific ingredients causing these dangerous side effects?


A:   Pseudoephederine, a decongestant used to treat nasal and sinus congestion, can cause the heart rate to increase.  Benadryl, an antihistamine, can make breathing difficult. 


Q:   How should a cough and cold be treated in children younger than 2 years old?


A:   The best thing you can do for a child with a cold or cough is to keep them hydrated.  Be sure that you’re serving them plenty of liquids.  In addition, you should place a humidifier in the rooms they use for playing and sleeping.  More and more families are installing whole-house humidifiers, and I recommend that as well.


You can give infants saltwater nose drops and suction their nose to clear breathing passages.


Q:   Do young children, especially infants, feel as “sick” as adults?


A:   Yes.  They’re just not very good at telling us they don’t feel well.  If your child is unusually fussy, that may be a sign of a cold or illness.


Q:    When should parents see a doctor if their child has a cough or cold?


A:    The average cold lasts approximately a week.  If a child has suffered with a cold or cough for longer than a week, and is showing no improvement, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.  Parents also need to keep an eye out for a decrease in appetite, difficulty breathing or a recurring fever.  I tell parents that if it’s out of the ordinary, call your doctor.  Otherwise, it’s ok to treat them at home with plenty of fluids and rest.


Q:    What can parents do to prevent their children from getting sick?


A:    The best thing a parent can do to prevent illness is to be sure their child washes their hands frequently and touches their face infrequently.  When you’re out and about and can’t get to a sink, have your child wash his or her hands with alcohol hand gels.  To keep the cold from infecting others, teach your children to cough into their elbow instead of into their hands.


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