Safety profile of cough and cold medication use in pediatrics

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background and Objectives: The safety of cough and cold medication (CCM) use in children has been questioned. We describe the safety profile of CCMs in children <12 years of age from a multisystem surveillance program. Methods: Cases with adverse events (AEs) after ingestion of at least 1 index CCM ingredient (brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, doxylamine, guaifenesin, phenylephrine, and pseudoephedrine) in children <12 years of age were collected from 5 data sources. An expert panel determined relatedness, dose, intent, and risk factors. Case characteristics and AEs are described. Results: Of the 4202 cases reviewed, 3251 (77.4%) were determined to be at least potentially related to a CCM, with accidental unsupervised ingestions (67.1%) and medication errors (13.0%) the most common exposure types. Liquid (67.3%), pediatric (75.5%), and singleingredient (77.5%) formulations were most commonly involved. AEs occurring in >20% of all cases included tachycardia, somnolence, hallucinations, ataxia, mydriasis, and agitation. Twenty cases (0.6%) resulted in death; most were in children <2 years of age (70.0%) and none involved a therapeutic dose. The overall reported AE rate was 0.573 cases per 1 million units (ie, tablets, gelatin capsules, or liquid equivalent) sold (95% confidence interval, 0.553-0.593) or 1 case per 1.75 million units. Conclusions: The rate of AEs associated with CCMs in children was low. Fatalities occurred even less frequently. No fatality involved a therapeutic dose. Accidental unsupervised ingestions were the most common exposure types and single-ingredient, pediatric liquid formulations were the most commonly reported products. These characteristics present an opportunity for targeted prevention efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20163070
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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