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CDC Reports: Warning Labels Reduced Kids’ ER Visits Due to Cough and Cold Medicines

Update Date: Nov 12, 2013 10:51 AM EST

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that newer warning labels on children's cough and cold medicines might have helped reduce the number of emergency room visits. According to the agency, the warning labels were capable of deterring the use of these medications for young children, which reduced the chances of negative side effects.

For this report, the research team examined a database that had information on adverse events or side effects related to cough and cold medicines that were all reported in U.S. emergency rooms. Between 2004 and 2011, the researchers reported that there were 61,168 emergency room visits in children under 12-years-old. According to the background information, in October 2007, drug companies had recalled some cough and cold mediations due to a spike in emergency room visits and deaths in young children. In 2008, the medications returned with clear warning labels that parents should not use the drugs for children under four-years-old. The report believes that these warning labels have made a huge difference.

Before the warning labels were printed, the researchers noted that four percent of the children aged two and below who needed emergency care was related to drug misuse. Now, that percentage has dropped to two percent. In addition, children between the ages of two- and three-years-old made up of 10 percent of all emergency room visits before the warning labels were printed. After 2008, the percentage dropped to seven percent. The researchers also praised media attention and educational campaigns that helped raise awareness about children's cough and cold medications.

"The label is a very powerful tool for changing parent behavior," commented Dr. Daniel Frattarelli, who was not a part of the study. Frattarelli used to be the chairman of the committee on drugs with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Frattarelli and the researchers believe that the labels should be modified to include children six-years-old and younger. Frattarelli stated that children under six-years-old do not really benefit from cough and cold medications and should not use them. The study found no declines in the percentage of children visits to the emergency department for the age group of four to 11. The researchers actually found a 0.9 percent increase in hospital visits for four- and five-year-olds.

"Progress has been made, but there is still a lot of work to do to reduce adverse events from cough and cold medications," the lead author, Dr. Lee Hampton said according to CBS News. Hampton is a medical officer with the CDC.

The team also found that the percentage of children who took medications without supervision and needed emergency care did not change. For children under two-years-old before and after the warning labels, 64 percent of them who were in the emergency department took the cold and cough medications without any supervision. For children between two- and three-years-old, 89 percent of the emergency room cases were due to the consumption of these drugs when the children were not being watched.

"Over-the-counter medications may seem benign to the average person, but they can be dangerous, especially in small children. The highest number of unsupervised ingestions was in 2- to 3-year-olds. These are kids that are beginning to be mobile and may start climbing and getting into more. And, these medications are sweet and good-tasting. This is the age group that parents really need to be monitoring," Dr. Bradley Berg, who was also not involved in the study, commented according to HealthDay. Berg is the medical director of Round Rock Pediatrics at Scott and White Healthcare in Texas.

The researchers concluded that children should not be given these medications and parents must place these medications in places where children cannot take them without being seen. The report was published in Pediatrics.

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