Posted On: May 3, 2013 by Patrick A. Malone

Cold Medicines Are Dangerous for Very Young Children

All parents of children old enough to spend time around other children know that their offspring are little cold factories. Data from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital indicate that kids get 5 to 10 colds a year.

To relieve their symptoms, their parents often give wee ones over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products. In many cases, that’s bad medicine.

According to a national poll on children’s health by the Mott Children’s Hospital, more than 4 in 10 parents give their children younger than 4 cough medicine or multi-symptom cough and cold medicine. One in 4 gives them decongestants.

In 2008, the FDA issued an advisory that these OTC meds should not be given to infants and children younger than 2. Not only are they not proved to be effective for young children, they can cause serious side effects that might include:


  • convulsions

  • allergic reactions

  • elevated or uneven heart rate

  • drowsiness or sleeplessness

  • slow and shallow breathing

  • confusion or hallucinations

  • nausea and constipation.


A couple of years ago, we wrote about the dangers of Tylenol and dosing information for children younger than 2.

After the FDA warning, manufacturers of OTC cough and cold products rewrote their labels to read that the medicines should not be given to children younger than 4.

Although parents might feel as though they should give their ailing children something, anything, these products “don’t reduce the time the infection will last and misuse could lead to serious harm,” said Dr. Matthew M. Davis, director of the poll, in a University of Michigan news release.

“What can be confusing,” Davis said, “is that often 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. … [W]hat’s good for adults is not always good for children.”

As with any medication, prescription or OTC, you should always read the labels and patient information that comes with it. Contact your doctor if you’re uncertain about how, or to whom, it should be given.

To learn more about the difficulty in adjusting adult medicine for pediatric use, see our blog, “Drug Labels Still Leave Pediatricians Playing a Guessing Game.”

Families interested in learning more about our firm's legal services, including legal representation for children who have suffered serious injuries in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia due to medical malpractice, defective products, birth-related trauma or other injuries, may ask questions or send us information about a particular case by phone or email. There is no charge for contacting us regarding your inquiry. An attorney will respond within 24 hours.

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