Michael Shannon, MD, MPH
What is Children's stance on the over-the-counter
cough and cold medicine controversy?
As a general rule, cough and cold medicines are agents meant to reduce congestion,
suppress cough, bring up secretions or treat fever and aches. The problem is that there is abundant scientific data showing that they do not reduce congestion or coughs in children, and instead pose significant risks of serious side effects.
These adverse events can include basic overdose by misreading a label, drug interaction or the potential for an unexpected reaction as a result of an underlying condition. In addition, many cough and cold medicines contain antihistamines, which parents may give to children to make them sleepy; this is a bad idea and not worth the risk of potential side effects.
There's no reason to be alarmed if parents have been giving their child a cough and cold
medicine, as they produce no long-lasting harm. However, looking forward, there aren't any
medications that have been proven safe and effective in children with a cold. But the good news is that a cold will only last three to four days, after which the child will begin feeling better.
If a child has a fever or feels achy, we do recommend using Tylenol (acetaminophen) or
Motrin (ibuprofen). Those are medications that we know to be safe and effective in children.
- Michael Shannon, MD, MPH, chief of Children's Clinical
Pharmacology Unit in the Division of Emergency Medicine
View a video of Dr. Shannon discussing the topic: childrenshospital.org/coldmeds
Dr. Shannon's Clinical Pharmacology Program: childrenshospital.org/clinicalpharmacology