Learning from Tragedy: Babies and Cough Meds

You may have heard about about the tragic death of 4-month old Daniel Richadson. A healthy baby with a cough, his aunt, who was babysitting, gave him some over-the-counter cough medicine (namely Robitussin) to try and sooth him. The baby stopped breathing and died shortly afterward.

If there’s anything good that can come of this awful accident, it should be to make parents and caretakers aware of the effects of medication they give their small children. As of 2007, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned parents not to give over-the-counter cold medicine to children younger than 2 without first asking a doctor.


image: Drug Free Homes

The CDC further states: “Cough and cold medicines do not cure the common cold. Although cough and cold medicines may be used to treat the symptoms of the common cold in older children, they should not be used in children less than 4 years old. Too much cough and cold medicine can cause serious harm or even deaths in children.”

Parents should also be aware of the dangers of unnecessary antibiotic use. The CDC warns: “Antibiotics can kill bacteria but not viruses. Most colds, coughs, flu, sore throats, and runny noses are caused by viruses. Taking antibiotics for viral infections will not cure viral infections, keep others from catching the illness, or help your child feel better. Although antibiotics are good drugs for certain types of infections, they… cause they most emergency visits for adverse drug events.”

Tips for Parents from the CDC

  • Don’t give children medicine that is packaged for adults unless told to told so by a physician.
  • Don’t use cough and cold products for children under 4 unless told to do so by a physician.
  • Read all information on the package label and follow directions. Don’t give a child medicine more often or in greater amounts than the package says!
  • Use only the measuring device that is included with the prduct. A kitchen spoon is not a good measuring device for giving medicine to children.
  • If a measuring device is not included with the product, purchase one at a pharmacy or ask the pharmacist for one.
  • Check the active ingredients in the prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Make sure you do not give your child two medicines that have the same active ingredient. If you have questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
  • If you don’t understand the instructions or how to use the dosing device, do not use the medicine. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor of you have questions or are confused.
  • Do not ask for antibiotics when a doctor says they are not needed.
  • If you child is prescribed an antibiotic, make sure s/he takes all the medicine as prescribed, even if they feel better. Do not save antibiotic medicine “for later.”
So what can you do to help a baby or young child find relief from a cold, cough, runny nose, and congestion?
Dr. Sear’s Natural Treatments for Coughs, Runny Nose, and Congestion:
  • Steam cleaning. Give your child steam, steam, and more steam. For infants and young children, turn the bathroom into a steam room with the door closed and the shower on full hot. Sit in there for 10 or 15 minutes. For older children, use a facial steamer or pot of hot water (carefully!). The steam will help loosen the nose and chest congestion, and help your child cough it up or blow it out. Do this steam cleaning every morning and before bed, as well as during the day if possible.
  • Clap the chest and back. While you sit in the bathroom steaming, clap on your child’s chest and back (where the lungs are) firmly (harder than burping) with an open hand. This helps shake the mucus loose so your child can cough it up better.
  • Sleep upright. If possible, allow your child to sleep in a slightly upright position. This allows for easier breathing during sleep.
  • Nose hose. For older children, it is crucial to have them blow their nose several times during a steam cleaning, as well as frequently throughout the day. Getting out all the junk will help prevent this from turning into a bacterial infection. An alternative to steaming is to use nasal decongestant spray to loosen up the nasal congestion before blowing it out. For infants too young to blow their nose, you can suction them out using a blue rubber bulb syringe.
  • Hot steam vaporizer. Use a hot steam vaporizer in the bedroom at night (not a cool mist humidifier). This warm, humid environment can help keep noses and chests clear at night. Be sure to air the room out well during the day because mold can start to grow in the room due to the warmth and humidity.
  • Eucalyptus and lavender oil. Add only one drop of each of these to a facial steamer, pot of hot water or some vaporizers. They can help clear up the congestion faster.
  • Vapor rubs on the chest. Occasionally, these can cause wheezing because the vapors may be too strong for some children, but overall they will work well. It is safe to try, but do observe your child to make sure it doesn’t cause wheezing.
  • Drink twice as much liquid. This will help to thin secretions and prevent dehydration.

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