Dr. Matthew M. Davis, director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, said children can get five to 10 colds each year, so adults often turn to over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.
However, a University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll showed more than 40 percent of parents reported giving their children age 4 and younger cough medicine and multi-symptom cough and cold medicine. Twenty-five percent gave decongestants.
In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory that over-the-counter medicines -- cough medicine, multi-symptom cough and cold medicine and decongestants -- should not be given to small children.
They have not been proven effective for young children and may cause serious side effects, said Davis.
"These products don't reduce the time the infection will lasts and misuse could lead to serious harm," Davis said in a statement. "What can be confusing is that often these products are labeled prominently as 'children's' medications.'"
However, details are often on the back of the box, in small print. "That's where parents and caregivers can find instructions that they should not be used in children age 4 and younger," Davis said.
The side effects from use of cough and cold medicines in young children may include allergic reactions, increased or uneven heart rate, drowsiness or sleeplessness, slow and shallow breathing, confusion or hallucinations, convulsions, nausea and constipation, Davis said.