Despite warnings, parents continue to use cough & cold medicines for young kids

February 14, 2011 Volume 12 Issue 1
  • 6 in 10 parents of children 2 and under gave their children over-the-counter cough and cold medicine within the last 12 months.
  • About half of parents who use OTC cough and cold medicine report that their young children’s health care providers say these types of medicines are safe and are effective.

Research has linked over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products to cases of poisoning or death in hundreds of children 2 years and younger.  In addition, studies have shown that these medicines do little to control symptoms.  In 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally recommended that OTC cough and cold products not be used for children in this high-risk age group.

However, little is known about whether parents and children’s health care providers have adopted the FDA’s recommendations about these medicines.

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents about using OTC cough and cold medicines for their children ages 6 months to 2 years

Parent Use of OTC Meds for Young Children

Among parents with children 2 years and under, 61% have given their children OTC cough and cold medicines within the last 12 months.  Use of such medicines differs by race/ethnicity—higher among black (80%) and Hispanic (69%) than among white parents (57%).  Use also differs by income—highest (80%) in families with annual income <$30,000 and lowest (41%) in families with income of $100,000 or more. Use is not different if the parent had older children at home.

When deciding whether to use an OTC medicine, two-thirds of parents report wanting their child to be able to sleep better or to be more comfortable during the day as “very important” reasons.  Over half (56%) say having their child’s health care provider recommend the medicine was very important.

Perceptions of Safety & Effectiveness

Among parents who have used OTC cough and cold medicines for their young children, 57% say their children’s health care providers indicated that these types of medicines are safe. 49% of parents say their children’s health care providers indicated that OTC cough and cold medicines are effective in young children (Figure 1).

Implications

FDA warnings about OTC cough and cold medicines prompted a voluntary recall of products marketed for children younger than 2 years.  However, this latest poll indicates that the FDA warnings have gone unheeded by the majority of parents.

There are challenges to informing parents about this topic.  The FDA warning is specific to young children 2 and under—but parents of those kids may not have heard the warnings issued more than 2 years ago.  Each year a “new generation” of parents must be educated about a wide variety of health care issues for their children.

Logically, many parents look to their children’s health care providers as a source of timely health information.  However, in this poll, about half of parents report that their young children’s health care providers say that OTC medicines are safe and effective.  Further work is needed to verify that child health care providers understand FDA warnings about OTC cough and cold medicines, and to ensure that health care providers are giving parents clear and consistent messages about these medicines’ safety and effectiveness.

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey   conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in January 2011 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents aged 18 and older with children age  6 months to 2 years (n=349) from the Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 60% among parent panel members contacted to participate. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5 to 15 percentage points.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH

This Report includes research findings from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, which do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan.

[FOR PARENTS WITH CHILDREN AGE 6 MOS TO 2 YEARS]

Over-the-counter medicines can be used to treat symptoms of a stuffy or runny nose, cough, itchy eyes, high temperature (fever) and body aches or pain. Some of these products are made to treat multiple symptoms at once.  They come in liquid form, and can be purchased without a prescription.

Q1. When was the last time you gave your [X-YEAR/MONTH]-old child an over-the-counter medicine for cold, cough and/or flu symptoms?

1. Within the past 3 months
2. 4-6 months ago
3. 7-12 months ago
4. More than 12 months ago [DO NOT SHOW FOR CHILD = 6 TO 11 MOS]
5. Never

[IF Q1=1, 2, 3, 4]

Q2.  How important were the following in choosing to use over-the-counter medicine for your [X-YEAR/MONTH]-old child’s cold, cough and/or flu symptoms?
Select one response in each row.

  Very important Somewhat important  Not important
I wanted my child to be able to sleep better      
I wanted my child to be more comfortable during the daytime        
My child’s health care provider recommended the medicine        

Q3. When did you last discuss the use of over-the-counter cold, cough and/or flu medicine with your [X-YEAR/MONTH]-old child’s health care provider?

1. Within the past 3 months
2. 4-6 months ago
3. 7-12 months ago
4. More than 12 months ago [DO NOT SHOW FOR CHILD = 6 TO 11 MOS]
5. Never

[IF Q3= 1, 2, 3, OR 4]

Q4. What did your [X-YEAR/MONTH]-old child’s health care provider say about cough, cold and/or flu medicines for children under 2, regarding…?

Safety  They are safe They are not safe Did not discuss
Effectiveness  They are effective They are not effective Did not discuss

Participants were also asked demographic questions on gender, race/ethnicity, annual household income and insurance status.

All information is the sole property of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.  It can only be used if there is an acknowledgment that "The information came from, is copyright by and is owned by and belongs to the Regents of the University of Michigan and their C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It cannot be republished or used in any format without prior written permission from the University."

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH
 

 

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Use Cough & Cold Medicines Young Kids