Children’s over-the-counter pain and cold medications had been responsible for thousands of emergency room visits from overdose every year before October 2007. That’s when the label was changed on cold meds for children and when manufacturers agreed they should not be used by anyone under the age of two.

The capsule form of the common cough suppressant dextromethorphan.

The capsule form of the common cough suppressant dextromethorphan.

Following the label changes and additional warnings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that emergency room admissions dropped by more than 50 percent.

Today cold medications warn they should not be used on children under the age of four.

All of these preventive moves have the government issuing some additional positive news. The number of emergency room (ER) visits by youngsters due to drug overdoses has again been cut in half in some age groups, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics by researchers with the CDC.

The study looked at ER visits from 2004 until 2011 among youngsters. For those under the age of two, ER visits accounted for 2.4 percent, down from 4.1 percent prior from the initial label changes in 2007. Children ages two to three had accounted for 9.5 percent of all emergency room visits; now that is down to 6.5 percent. Among children ages 4 to 11, there was not a noticeable reduction in visits to the ER. And in a reverse to the trend, children ages 4 and 5 had a slightly higher number of visits from 5.6 percent to 6.5 percent. In all, data from 63 hospitals went into the study.

Current evidence suggests that these over-the-counter medications are not effective in treating a cold for children age six and under, reports the New York Times.

Many of these accidental overdoses occur when someone in the family, such as another child or an adult, leaves a bottle of medications out and uncapped and a small child gets into them thinking the cherry flavoring means it is candy.

Between 1969 and 2006, an FDA review found:

  • 54 children’s deaths were associated with decongestant medications made with pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine or ephedrine.
  • 69 death reports were associated with diphenhydramine, brompheniramine or chlorpheniramine. Most of the children were under the age of 2. The reports followed a lawsuit by a group of pediatricians who felt the cough and cold meds had never been proven safe.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 7,000 children under the age of 11 were treated in hospital emergency rooms every year due to cold and cough medication reactions.

Overdosing can occur when parents give two different products with the same active ingredients or give too much of a dose too frequently.

Not surprisingly a spokesperson from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association assures parents that the OTC cold meds are safe in children age four and older.

The Food and Drug Administration’s Dr. Joshusa Sharfstein, a pediatrician, had been on the bandwagon about restricting the use of children’s meds before he joined the federal agency. He left the FDA after two years. Now the agency says it’s been working on the issue of children’s medications and their use among children but they have no findings to release yet.

A poll from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital last year attributes the problem to the liquid form of the medications. Two-thirds of those responding to the poll felt the medications should be repackaged in a single-dose that would make accidents nearly impossible.

Even though the medications have not been found to be effective and could deliver adverse events, another poll this January from the C.S. Mott Children’s hospital found four in ten parents still give cough and cold medications to children under the age of four.