Kids Don’t Need OTC Cough And Cold Medicine

November 29, 2016
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Sick kids? Skip the OTC cough and cold medicine

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The common cold season is here, and if you have children, you will likely feel their suffering from these annoying upper respiratory tract viral infections.

Children experience more colds, about six to 10 annually, than adults. With each cold producing symptoms of nasal congestion, runny nose, cough and mild fever lasting up to seven to 10 days, it may seem that children are nearly continuously sick

Parents certainly want their ill children to feel better, and they, naturally, want to help. A frequent solution is over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, which are heavily advertised to treat many maladies, including colds. A stroll down your local pharmacy OTC drug aisle will highlight the numerous OTC drug products available for adults and children.

It is tempting to buy one or more of these products to help your child. However, for children younger than 12 years of age, it is best not to use commonly advertised OTC cough and cold drug products. These products lack supportive clinical study efficacy and safety data, an issue I’ve studied as a professor of pharmacy practice.

 

Children are not just small adults

When treating children with OTC or prescription drugs, it is important to understand that young children differ significantly from the adult population with respect to drug efficacy and adverse effects.

Over the past 30 years, we have learned much more about pediatric pharmacology and drug action and behavior, known as pharmacokinetics, and differences compared to adults. Prior to this, and even today to some extent, health care professionals assumed that drugs functioned and behaved similarly in children as in adults.

Based on this assumption, health practitioners often only reduced the amount of a drug to a child based on a proportion of the child’s body weight to an adult. For example, a provider would prescribe 50 percent of an adult drug dose for a child with 50 percent body weight of an adult. The efficacy of OTC cough and cold product active ingredient, as demonstrated in adult studies, was assumed to be similar in children.

However, we have learned, and are continuing to learn, that this strategy is not accurate and can be dangerous. Most drugs are not specifically studied and evaluated in children prior to their labeling by the FDA and availability to the public.

A safe and effective drug dose and dose schedule (how often a drug dose is given) is derived from these formal studies and evaluations. But without these formal studies, pediatric-specific drug pharmacology is not accurately evaluated and determined. In addition, a physician can legally prescribe any drug for a child, even if there aren’t data supporting its efficacy and safety in children.

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