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Doctors Warn Parents to Keep These Medicines Away from Children

The Short of It

Pediatricians urge parents to get rid of common cough and cold medicines, so they don't use them on their kids.

The Lowdown

It's time to start cleaning out those medicine cabinets. While side effects from using common cough and cold meds are pretty rare, emergency medicine specialist Dr. Deena Berkowitz says they often occur because children are given too much too often, or because parents mix different meds together.

"We do advise against their use in young children because there have been reports of serious and potentially life-threatening side effects," Berkowitz, who is with the Children's National Health System, told WTOP News. She says parents often increase the meds because they think their child is not getting any better, but what they don't realize is that "cough and cold medications [don't] really treat the cold or make it end any faster."

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Studies also show these medicines are not effective in young children, and the Food and Drug Administration has determined they should not be used in kids younger than 2 years old. The American Academy of Pediatrics comes down even harder, advising parents to steer clear of cough and cold meds for children younger than 6 years of age.

Here's what to ditch: any cough suppressants that contain dextromethorphan, cough expectorants, decongestants with pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, and certain antihistamines.

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The Upshot

Berkowitz says there's really no reason to give any of these things to any child—even a teen.

"The real concern is having pseudoephedrine in the home unmonitored," she said. "Because we know that is a drug that can potentially be abused."

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To be safe, she suggests that parents check all labels carefully; never give children medications designated only for adults; don't give a child multiple medicines with the same type of active ingredients; and check with a pediatrician before giving any over-the-counter cold and cough medications.

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