Back in December 2008, Health Canada decided that over-the-counter (non-prescription) cough and cold medications should not be given to children under 6 years of age.
These over-the-counter cough and cold medications contain active ingredients such as antihistamines (used to treat runny nose and sneezing); cough suppressants, expectorants (used to loosen mucus) and decongestants (used to treat nasal congestion).
There is concern that cough/cold medications may not be safe for children under six years old. There have been some reports of misdosing, overdosing, adverse effects of cough/cold products in children and even reported cases of death. Some cases involved a parent using more than one combination product causing a duplication of ingredients leading to an overdose. Literature shows that use of these products may not be of benefit when given to this young age group. Also, it is difficult for younger children to communicate the potential side effects of the medication. The risks outweigh the benefits.
The current product labelling has children’s dosing instructions for ages 2 to 6 years old. However, by fall of 2009, Health Canada requires all cough and cold medication to be re-labelled and specifically state that the product is not to be used in children under 6 years of age. The labels should also include the dose for children aged 6 to 12 years old. The products need to be of child resistant packaging and should include accurate dosing devices in all liquid formulations. All products containing dosing information for children under 6 years of age will be taken off the market by this coming fall.
What to do if your child under 6 years of age has a cold?
- Avoid giving your child cough/cold medications and talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
- Prevent dehydration by giving your child plenty of fluids.
- For pain or fever, use a single-ingredient product such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol or Tempra) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil or Motrin). Keep in mind that the infant drops are more concentrated than the children’s liquid/elixir formulation. So, please read the dosing label to prevent an error in giving your child too little or too much drug. When measuring your child’s dose, use a calibrated medicinal cup, dropper, and spoon or oral syringe to ensure correct dosage. Household spoons are not very accurate.
- For nasal congestion, keep your child in an upright position, gently suction out the nostrils, use a saline nasal drop to moisturize the nose, or increase moisture in the air by using a room humidifier.
Since the common cold is a viral infection, there is no cure. The virus will have to run its course. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and not viral infections. Cough and cold medications for over 6 years of age and older are used to help alleviate symptoms and provide temporary relief.
When to contact your doctor?
If your child:
- is less than 3 months old
- has had a fever for greater than 24 hours and is under 2 years old
- has severe throat pain or ear pain
- has signs and symptoms that do not get better in 10 days.
Armalyn Tesoro is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy. She is currently working as a licensed community pharmacist at Wal-Mart on Ellice and Empress.
The above information is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor, pharmacist or qualified health care professional to receive proper medical treatment.