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Large number of children given cough, cold meds despite warnings

About one in five children in Canada was treated with the drugs, causing researchers to suggest stronger warning labels may be in order.

By
Stephen Feller
Most over-the-counter cold and cough medicines are ineffective in children younger than 6, and can lead to adverse health effects, but researchers say current warning labels do not dissuade parents enough from using them anyway. Photo by Maria Symchych/Shutterstock
Most over-the-counter cold and cough medicines are ineffective in children younger than 6, and can lead to adverse health effects, but researchers say current warning labels do not dissuade parents enough from using them anyway. Photo by Maria Symchych/Shutterstock

TORONTO, March 16 (UPI) -- Despite labels on cold and cough medicines warning not to use them with children under six, researchers in Canada found a significant number of parents disregard them and suggest stronger warnings could help lower the problem.

A study at St. Michael's Hospital found nearly one in five children receive over-the-counter cold and cough drugs, even with warnings about the potential for adverse effects.

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The Canadian government has required warnings for parents that the drugs may not be effective in children and could lead to harm since 2009, but researchers say some may not be aware of the relatively recent change in recommendation.

Based on the success of warning labels on potentially dangerous products such as cigarettes and alcohol, researchers think more parents could be reached and the number of young children exposed to the drugs could be reduced.

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"Young parents and those who used these medications with older children prior to the Health Canada warning may not be aware of the change, so it's important for health professionals to raise awareness," Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician and researcher at St. Michael's Hospital, said in a press release. "When a child has a cough or cold, it's extremely challenging for families and parents are looking for some relief."

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For the study, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, for the study researchers analyzed data on 3,515 healthy children recruited between ages 1 and 5 from 2008 to 2011, about one-third of whom had a cough or cold in the preceding month.

Among the children, 20.7 percent were treated using cold or cough medicine. The number of children treated with the drugs from the time new label requirements were put in place dropped from 22.2 percent overall to 17.8 percent a year after the labels went into use.

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"I think a lot of parents would be surprised to learn that these medications can be harmful to children," Maguire said. "Better public awareness as well as making these readily available medications harder to purchase may help to reduce their use."

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