Since taking cough and cold medicines for children under 4 off the shelves, the numbers being taken to emergency departments because of overdoses from these medications have fallen considerably, researchers from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report in the medical journal Pediatrics. This was exactly why those drugs were withdrawn, experts say. However, more can and should be done to bring down the number of kids ending up in emergency rooms even further, they say.
Lead author, Dr. Daniel Budnitz, said there should be no emergency visits at all if there are supposed to be no such drugs around anymore.
Two years ago cough and cold medicine makers agreed to stop marketing their products for use on children under two years of age. Later the age was raised to 4 years. In January 2008 the FDA advised parents not to use them to treat under-twos because of the potentially dangerous and possibly life-threatening side effects.
Cough and cold medicines typically contain decongestants and antihistamines, which may be dangerous for kids if they have too much.
Budnitz and team set out to determine how many kids visited emergency rooms in the USA before and after these drugs were taken off the shelves. They gathered data on over 60 hospitals throughout the country; they all had round-the-clock emergency departments. Five of the hospitals were pediatric ones.
They found that 14 months since the products were taken off the market, visits by children up to the age of two years dropped by over half, compared to 14 months before they were pulled – from 2,800 to 1,250. There was no significant change for older children.
However, despite this drop, two-thirds of emergency department visits today are linked to cough and cold medications. Unsupervised consumption of these OTC drugs used to be and still is responsible for two-thirds of all the visits, the authors wrote.
The total number of emergency department visits from all ages remained fairly similar, 9,727 before the drugs were pulled compared to 9,408 afterwards.
The authors added:
- “Further reductions likely will require packaging improvements to reduce harm from unsupervised ingestions and continued education about avoiding cold and cough medicine use for young children.”
It is crucial for parents to keep medications out of sight, in a safe place, and not administer OTC cough and cold ones to children up to the age of four years, the team explained. Making the medication more difficult for young children to open and the addition of flow restraints would help reduce unsupervised consumption hazards.
In one third of emergency department visits in which the adult administered the OTC cough and cold drug, the dosage was correct.
Budnitz is concerned that parents may seek out other medications now that the pediatric cough and cold ones are not around anymore. He wonders whether there might be an increase in side effects from painkillers. So far, this has not been the case.
The authors stressed that their study did not list how many children had ingested infant, pediatric or adult medications.
Written by Christian Nordqvist