It’s no wonder parents may be confused about whether to give young children over-the-counter cough and cold medicine. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that packaging decorated with Teddy bears or infant droppers can mislead caregivers into thinking the medicine is appropriate for children under 2.
In 2006 and 2007, researchers recruited almost 182 caregivers (most were mothers) and asked them to look at the front of a package of children’s cough and cold medicine. Coincidentally, many of these medicines were voluntarily pulled by pharmaceutical companies from shelves shortly after the study began due to concerns about the risk of overdose in young children.
The medicines were pulled after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned parents about giving medications to infants and toddlers that carry risks such as convulsions, increased heart rates, lowered levels of consciousness and, in rare cases, death. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration later affirmed the recommendation to never give children under 2 these medications.
But even with these warnings, parents in the study assumed the medications were safe, based on the pictures, droppers and the word "infant" found on labels. Eight-six percent of the time they thought the medicine was appropriate for children under 2. More than half the time parents said they would give these over-the-counter medicines to a 13-month-old child with cold symptoms.
The study urged the FDA to require companies to alter their packaging and instructions. The FDA is still reviewing whether cold and cough medications are safe for older children between 2 and 11.