January 16, 2007

SALT LAKE CITY--‘Tis the cold and flu season and cough and cold preparations are prevalent in many households. Adverse effects and overdoses associated with cough and cold preparations account for about 5% of calls to the Utah Poison Control Center (UPCC) and are more common in the Winter months.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noted an estimated 1,519 children aged <2 were treated in U.S. emergency departments for adverse events, including overdoses, associated with cough and cold medications. This report also identified deaths of three infants aged <=6 months in 2005, for which cough and cold medications were determined to be the underlying cause of death.

In 2006, the UPCC responded to 2250 calls regarding exposures to cough and cold preparations, 68% involving children less than 6 years of age and 50 involving children aged <=6 months! Cough and cold exposures are common in children for several reasons. The majority of poison exposures occur when the product is in use. During the cold and flu season, parents often leave the product out to remember to administer to sick family members. Many cough and cold preparations are brightly colored and flavored which is enticing to small children. In addition, a myriad of cough and cold preparations are available on the market targeted for different symptoms. Many of these products have the same or similar ingredients. If more than one product is administered to a child or adult, it increases the likelihood of adverse effects.

The majority of cough and cold preparations are not recommended in children less than 6 years of age unless under advice of a primary care provider. The majority of cough and cold preparations should not be used at all in children less than 2 years of age. No recommended dosages exists.

The UPCC would like to remind caregivers that cough and cold preparations should not be administered to any child less than 6 years of age unless recommended by a physician or other primary care provider. There are no FDA approved dosing guidelines for any cough and cold preparation for children under the age of 2 years. To prevent unintentional poisoning and minimize adverse effects from cough and cold preparations, the UPCC recommends the following:

  • Store cough and cold preparations out of reach of small children.
  • Do not refer to medications as candy
  • Use cough and cold medications only as directed
  • Avoid use of more than one cough and cold medication. Many have the same or similar ingredients.
  • Read all instructions before use. Many cough and cold preparations can interact with other non-prescription, prescription and dietary supplement medications.
  • Consult with primary care provider about use of any non-prescription medication in small children.

The Utah Poison Control Center is a program of the University of Utah, College of Pharmacy.
For more information, call The Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.