Cough & Cold Medicines for Kids?

Why are they still on the shelves for sales? It’s been 8 years since FDA and Health Canada have announced how useless and possibly unsafe these potions are for kids.  Following these announcements, Health Canada has demanded all manufacturers to relabel affected products to include a statement that they are not for use in kids under 6 years of age.  But is this adequate to spread the message?

A recent study illustrates that at least 1 in 5 young children are given these cough medicines despite the new labeling requirement.

Health Canada recently released another reminder that we should not give cough and cold medicines to kids under the age of 6.

When we are sick, we trust our doctors to prescribe medicines that are appropriate for us. By the same token, should we also need to trust pharmacies to sell appropriate medicines?

I don’t spend much time in a pharmacy aisle on medicines because I usually know exactly what I need to buy. But for the general public, they are easily confused with the number of over-the-counter medications that are available for selection. Many times, so much shelf space is dedicated for products that are of questionable efficacy.

So just for curious sake, I went to a pharmacy to see how many cough and cold medicines are on the shelves for kids. There were few options to choose from. But what caught my attention was that, the “best selling” item was a homeopathic product with claims that it could relieve cough and cold symptoms in kids.

And then there are many many vitamins and supplements.  I don’t have anything against health supplements but I do think it is better to eat a real fish than to take a fish oil capsule. Real food is better than synthetically made supplements. Of course there are exceptions to the rule where it may not be practical to eat the real food or the convenience factor comes into play.

But when I see an entire aisle of pharmacy dedicated to products that  we routinely say the evidence may be lacking or unclear, what kind of inconsistent messages are we sending to the public? Should we strategically allocate shelf space based on the quality of evidence?

Perhaps it will not make a good business case.

But if we claim to be responsible for safe and effective medication use for the public, then should we also look closely at what we sell in the pharmacy?

So for those who are interested to know, I don’t buy any cough medicine for my kids – none whatsoever. If they cough, let them cough it out. It is our natural defense mechanism – trust the body to do what’s right. In my survival kit for my kids’ cough and cold, I have  1) a very reliable thermometer 2) some medicines for fever and 3) some saline for nasal congestion. Caring for Kids also has a nice article on colds in children.

Really the best medicine for cough and cold is tender loving care and a good rest. In fact, this applies to grown ups too.



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My name is Cynthia Leung and I am a practicing pharmacist in Kingston Ontario, Canada. This blog is for me to share my ideas, opinions and perspectives on how medications are used in our health care system. Note that these posts are my own opinions and do not represent the opinions of my current or former employers and / or organizations that I may belong to. Any possible case scenarios described in my posts would be modified to maintain patient confidentiality. This blog is not a platform for professional advise for patients or health care providers and the content is not meant to support any clinical decisions or replace professional opinions. Also the images are either taken or created by the author, or adapted with permissions. I hope you will enjoy reading my posts!

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