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Avoid cough syrup in young children

Updated on February 21, 2015

Being parents is definitely not an easy task,especially when the child gets sick. Having basic knowledge on taking care of child during illness is a very important skill in parenting. As we all know, most of the children will be affected by cough and common cold,at least once before age 4 years old. They are so vulnerable to contract respiratory illnesses,which often due to contact with ill-person. Cough and common cold are easily spread either by inhaling the droplets of virus in the air when someone coughs or sneezes or by touching someone or something with a cold virus on it and then touch your eyes, mouth and nose. But,don't worry because most of the time, cough and common cold are due to viral illness which are self-limiting. The child would subsequently recover with rest, adequate fluids and, in cases of fever,with paracetamol.Thus,every parents should be reassured and educated about this.

Having been in medical services as medical practitioner,i always encounter parents who love to request for cough syrup for their coughing kid. Most of the cough syrup over-the-counter contains antihistamines which are not suitable and harmful for kids. But most parents believe that cough syrup has good effect by sending their coughing kid goes to sleep. The child goes to sleep not because the cough has resolved but due to sedating effect of antihistamines. To reassure them that the cough and colds are self-limiting,thus not requiring medications is not easy. Continuous health education to parents is essential to stop parents from buying non-prescription medications. FDA also has issued a nationwide Public Health Advisory in January 2008 recommending that the non-prescription,over-the-counter cough and cold medications should not be used in children under the age of 4 because of the risk of serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.

The most commonly reported adverse reactions with these medicines in children include agitation, insomnia, hallucinations and over-sedation. The cough suppressor also dangerous because by suppressing the cough reflex,child may stop coughing and thus the sputum cannot be coughing out of lungs. The accumulated secretions may blocked the respiratory airways thus causing respiratory blockade and cessation of breathing.

Health education in the community level is important to ensure parents are equipped with knowledge and right parenting skills.A matter of utmost importance, every parents should be educated about the danger signs indicating the child is not doing well or in bad illness.

  • Worsening cough causing child to have fast breathing with deep chest wall recession
  • Unable to breastfeed or refuse to eat
  • Child not active, lethargic and prefers to sleep all the time
  • Persistent high-grade fever (usually fever of viral origin will subside after 5-7days of illness without treatment)
  • Unconscious or convulsive child

Being aware that education is a continuous process, i hope every parents always updating themselves about the latest guidelines on health issues regarding children so that we are not doing harmful stuffs to them. Be a responsible parents and do no harm. :-)


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Take home message:

  • Do not use cold and cough medicines in children below 4 years old unless your doctor tells you to
  • Never give adult medicines to children. Only use medicines designed for children
  • Never use a cold or cough drug if your child takes other prescription or over-the-counter medicines unless you have checked with the doctor first
  • Take your child to the doctor if symptoms worsen or don’t improve within a few days
  • Be a responsible parents. Remember healthy kids,happy parents


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