CDC: 7,000 Pediatric Emergency Visits Linked to Cough, Cold Medication

An estimated 7,000 children ages 11 and younger are treated in hospital emergency departments each year because of cough and cold medications, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Approximately two-thirds of those incidents were due to unsupervised ingestion (i.e., children taking the medication without a parent's knowledge). The study was published online yesterday by the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, Pediatrics.

This study found that children ages 2 to 5 accounted for 64 percent of all adverse drug events from cough and cold medications, and nearly 80 percent of the events for this age group were from unsupervised ingestions. Among all age groups, 93 percent of the children did not require hospital admission, however, one-fourth needed additional treatment to eliminate the medicine from their bodies.

CDC researchers reviewed 2004-2005 data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System – Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance (NEISS-CADES) project to describe emergency department visits due to cough and cold medications.

"Parents need to be vigilant about keeping these medicines out of their children's reach," said Dr. Denise Cardo, director of CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. "They should refrain from encouraging children to take medicine by telling the children that medication is candy." Cardo also stated that adults should avoid taking adult medications in front of young children.

Recently, such products marketed to infants and toddlers less than 2 years old were voluntarily withdrawn from the market due to safety concerns. The safety of these products for children ages 2 to 11 is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Parents and caregivers should throw away previously purchased products marketed to infants and toddlers age 2 and younger.

The over-the-counter cough and cold products examined in this study include these ingredients: decongestants (for unclogging a stuffy nose), expectorants (for loosening mucus so that it can be coughed up), and antitussives (for quieting coughs). The medications may also have included antihistamines (for sneezing and runny nose) in combination with the ingredients above. The terms on the label could include "nasal decongestants," "cough suppressants," "expectorants," and "antihistamines."

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/poisonprevention.htm. For information on FDA recommendations, visit www.fda.gov/consumer/updates/coughcold011708.html.

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