Parents Continue to Give Cough and Cold Meds to Young Kids Despite FDA Warnings

Research has linked over-the-counter cough and cold products to poisoning or death in hundreds of children, ages 2 and younger. Studies have also shown that these medicines do little to control symptoms. As a result, in 2008, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally recommended that OTC cough and cold products not be given to children under age 2.

A poll released today by the C.S. Mott Childrens Hospital National Poll on Childrens Health shows that 61-percent of parents of children, ages 2 and younger, gave their children OTC cough and cold medicine within the last 12 months. The poll also shows that more than half of parents report that their childs doctor says OTC cough and cold medications are safe for children under 2; half of their physicians said they are effective.

"FDA warnings about OTC cough and cold medicines prompted a voluntary recall of products marketed for children younger than 2 years," says Matthew Davis, MD, director of the poll and associate professor in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the U-M Medical School. "We wanted to see how well parents and physicians were adopting those recommendations. Unfortunately, this latest poll indicates that the FDA warnings have gone unheeded by the majority of parents, and surprisingly, many physicians."

In January 2011, the C.S. Mott Childrens Hospital National Poll on Childrens Health asked parents across the U.S. with children, age 6-months to 2-years, about using OTC cough and cold medicines.

The poll also found:

- While about 61-percent of parents with children, ages 2 and under, have given their children OTC cough and cold medicines within the last 12 months, use of such medicines differs by race/ethnicityhigher among black (80 percent) and Hispanic (69 percent) than among white parents (57 percent).

- Use also differs by incomehighest (80 percent) in families with annual income of less than $30,000 and lowest (41percent) in families with income of $100,000 or more.

- Use is not different if the parent had older children at home.

- When deciding whether to use an OTC medicine, two-thirds of parents report wanting their child to be able to sleep better or to be more comfortable during the day as "very important" reasons for using the medications.

- Fifty-seven percent of parents say having their childs health care provider recommend the medicine was very important.

"There are challenges to informing parents about this topic," says Davis, who is also an associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. "The FDA warning is specific to young children, age 2 and underbut parents of those kids may not have heard the warnings issued more than two years ago. Each year a new generation of parents must be educated about a wide variety of healthcare issues for their children.

"Physicians are a valuable source of information for parents about this issue, but it appears that physicians are not heeding FDA warnings about OTC cough and cold medicines either. Kids will be safer when parents and doctors are all on the same page in limiting these medicines to older children."

Further work is needed to verify that child healthcare providers understand FDA warnings about OTC cough and cold medicines, and to ensure that health care providers are giving parents clear and consistent messages about these medicines safety and effectiveness.

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