Medication Errors From Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medications in Children

George Sam Wang, Kate M. Reynolds, William Banner, G. Randall Bond, Ralph E. Kauffman, Robert B. Palmer, Ian M. Paul, Malin Rapp-Olsson, Jody L. Green, Richard C. Dart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objective: Out of hospital medication-related adverse events (AEs) from cough and cold medications (CCMs) can have significant public health impact. The objective of this study was to characterize pediatric medication error AEs involving over-the-counter (OTC) CCMs to identify preventable factors. Methods: Multisource national data surveillance system study using an expert panel evaluating CCM AEs related to medication errors. Inclusion criteria: age <12 years, and at least 1 significant AE from at least 1 index ingredient from a CCM OTC product. Results: From 2009 through 2016, 4756 cases were determined to have a significant AE related to an OTC CCM ingredient and 513 (10.8%) cases were due to a medication error. Nearly half of medication errors involved children 2 to <6 years old (n = 235; 45.8%). Many involved administration by a parent (n = 231; 45.0%) or alternative caregiver (n = 148; 28.8%). In nearly all cases (93.2%), the medication error involved the wrong dose of the medication. Health care facility evaluation occurred in 381 (74.3%) cases. Diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan were responsible for most medication errors and medication errors involving health care facility evaluation. There were no deaths from medication errors. Conclusion: In this multiyear surveillance study, medication errors most commonly occurred in children <6 years old who received the wrong volume of a liquid product. Diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan dosing errors were the most common cause of medication errors resulting from CCM use. Continued standardization of measuring devices, concentrations, and units of measure along with consumer education are needed to further decrease medication errors from CCMs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-332
Number of pages6
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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