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Cold medications proving deadly to infants

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January 22 2007
by Jessica Fraser

(NewsTarget) Over-the-counter cold and cough medicines can injure or even kill children younger than 2, according to a new study appearing in the Jan. 12 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the CDC.

Three infants from 1 month old to 6 months old died in 2005 after being given either prescription or over-the-counter cough and cold medications -- or both -- while more than 1,500 children younger than 2 were treated in emergency rooms for health issues caused by such medicines between 2004 and 2005.

"Cough and cold medicines can be harmful, and even fatal, and should be used with caution in children under 2 years of age," said the study's lead author, Dr. Adam Cohen of the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "They are drugs, so they have risks as well as benefits."

Autopsies of the three deceased infants revealed that cold medications were the cause of death. All three infants' medical examinations showed high levels of pseudoephedrine -- the nasal decongestant ingredient in cold medications that can be used to make meth and was recently removed from many cold products -- in amounts nine to 14 times the levels recommended for children 2 to 12 years old.

One baby had been given both a prescription cold medication and an over-the-counter medicine, both of which contained pseudoephedrine. Two children were also given prescription cold remedies that contained carbinoxamine -- an antihistamine the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned from production in September 2006, though some products containing carbinoxamine are likely still being distributed.

"Cold and cough medications, especially medications containing pseudoephedrine, have never been shown to have any beneficial effect on children less than 2 years of age, yet they clearly can have significant harmful effects," said Dr. Michael Marcus, director of pediatric pulmonology, allergy and immunology at Maimonides Infants & Children's Hospital in New York.

"Parents should absolutely avoid these medications unless they are being supervised by a physician," Marcus said.

According to Cohen, parents should never give their children cough or cold medications without consulting a qualified health practitioner. "Many over-the-counter medicines may be marketed for infants, and there are no approved dosing recommendations from the FDA for this age group," he said.


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