Should you give your child cough medicine? -

Should you give your child cough medicine?

It seems harmless enough to give your child suffering with a cold some cough medicine. But, the FDA says it is not safe for children under four. Board certified pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson says one of the reasons is because the FDA never adequately studied these medicines.

"The FDA went all the way back to the 1960s and they collected data and they said, 'Are these medicine actually dangerous for kids?' And what they found was that on average, about three kids per year were dying because of these cough and cold medicines," Dr. Natterson explains. "It might have been that the parents were actually double-dosing them. It might have been that they were combining them with other medicines. It might have been that the child had a side-effect from taking the medicine.  But, three children a year is three too many." 

Dr. Natterson says double-dosing is all too common with cough and cold medicines.

"It's confusing," she says. "It's hard to read the labels, the active ingredients are very long, complicated words with 15 or 16 more letters and five syllables, and frankly, everyone gives up when they read the labels."

Some of the words on the label that look a little different but really mean the same thing include the fever reducer acetaminophen. So you might see it listed as acetaminophen on one bottle and paracetamol on another, and not realize that you're giving your child the same medicine twice.

Dr. Natterson sees another problem with these medicines.

"The other side of it – and this is something that parents don't often know, but if you've ever used the medicines, you realize – is they don't work," she adds.

Surprisingly, there is no legal requirement that cough medicine manufacturers prove their claims of the products' benefits. So Dr. Natterson recommends treating a cold the old-fashioned way.

"Chicken soup, right?", says Dr. Natterson, "It works because it hydrates children. It keeps their mucus thin and flowing. The steam goes up the kid's nose and helps them blow their nose. Chicken soup's a fantastic remedy. Just straight hydration: water, any clear fluid is going to help your kid get over a cold. Rest. Good, old-fashioned rest. You keep your child home from school when they're sick, and just sack out in bed or on the couch and rest the body"

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