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November 02, 2007

Cold season and no cold medicine: Is that so bad?

ColdThis is not medical advice. I am not a doctor. I don’t have a medical background or training. However, living overseas forced me to become educated in basic health matters. (Many times it was hard to find a doctor right away or one that attended to a particular need.) So health care is a hobby and an interest more than anything.

Here it is cold and flu season. My kids are coughing, sneezing and sniffing already, and this week was the millionth article I’ve read (this time in the Washington Post ) about pulling infant cold formulas off the shelves.

I have mixed feelings on this subject. Because we didn’t have children’s medicine overseas, we ordered them from home—mainly decongestants.  It’s obvious a community can survive without them, and we did have a few more natural medicinal options in a few places we lived.  Now that we’re back in the States, we can get children’s cold medicine, but one has to show ID, give fingerprints and take an oath that you won’t turn PediaCare into liquid meth in order to get some decongestant for a toddler with a runny nose.

I have several random thoughts with the current infant cold medicine recalls. The reason for the recall suggested by the FDA is two-fold: complications from unintentional overdose and the effectiveness in children.

I’m going to start with the latter issue. I don’t know what all the studies say about decongestants for children, but I will tell you pseudoephedrine--the now controlled drug in decongestants--does help my kids with their stuffy noses. It dries up extra boogies at night so they can breathe. It’s not perfect, but it helps. We do have a humidifier, and if I can get them to squirt saline, we do that too. But even I know a few Sudafed can least alleviate the stuffiness a bit.  Another drug that is an active ingredient in almost all “cold medicines” is dextromethorphan. It’s in NyQuil, DayQuil, Robitussin, Dimetapp, Delsym, Tylenol Cold—both kid and adult formulas.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I will say this stuff that knocks me out and leaves me feeling in a haze the next day. It’s a cough suppressant that actually signals the brain to stop coughing. When you have a cold, the goal is to cough up the bad stuff so it gets out of your system faster. Taking away this natural inclination is obviously counter-productive.  Suppressing a cough at night will help a child rest though—something a little Benadryl would probably do too. You’ll notice this is the ingredient of all but two of the medicines being recalled. Benadryl, however, was not one of the recalled medicines.

Now unintentional overdose. Since so many of these cold medicines have dextromethorphan them, I can see how it would be possible to administer two medicines—a decongestant and a cough medicine—that a parent thinks are a completely innocuous combination and wind up with an overdosed kid. But my question is this: is recalling the medicine the appropriate action to take? The number quoted in the Washington Post article this morning was 123 deaths between 1969 and 2006. While I’m sure those were horrible for the parents, I’m not sure 123 deaths in 35 years warrants all the media attention in the past few weeks. Perhaps educating parents at the doctor’s office is a more appropriate way to handle this, which I hope is the next step now.

One other interesting thing to note is that when a cough suppressant was advised by our doctor, it was just a smaller dosage of an adult cough medicine. I find it interesting you can still get the medicine you need . . . just not in the fancy, cute containers available in the children’s cold remedy section.

Perhaps the mistake is in the marketing here and not the actual medicines. As consumers, we’re sucked into packaging and assume the companies have done research for us. Pick up the liquid form of Delsym, a cough suppressant, and you’ll see the dosage recommendation for children over the age of two.  This suggests you don’t need a separate kid’s cough medicine, except maybe for the “yummy” flavor. Many people don’t do research on what’s in cold medicines for themselves or their children.

So where does this leave us parents? Cold and flu season is upon us and there are no cold medicines? Stock up on your Tylenol and Motrin. Grab whatever decongestants you can from the pharmacy, while you can. Make sure your kids are hydrated. Have a humidifier ready just in case. And know that if your child really needs a cough suppressant, your doctor will suggest some kind of relief. No one wants your baby to suffer.

Linda writes about her adventures with her two children, including their runny noses, on her own blog: Monkey Business.


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