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How dangerous is children's cough medicine?

An over-the-counter cough and cold medicine can be harmful if more than the recommended amount is used
David Paul Morris - Getty Images

Mothers across the country, on a regular basis, turn to the use of cough syrups to treat the cold and flu symptoms of their sick children. And that is exactly what a grandmother did in Colorado recently that may be the cause of the death of her granddaughter.

According to the medical examiner's office, the five-year old girl overdosed on two over-the-counter cold medications – Dextromethorphan and Cetirizine – two ingredients in cold medications and found in the young girl's system. The county coroner's office believes it was the combination of these two drugs that caused her death.

This is not the first time a death or life-threatening event has occurred due to an accidental overdose of cough medicine. There is one incident reported recently in Michigan of a mother who gave her baby an extra dose of cough medicine to help her baby sleep. The baby was taken to a local hospital in distress, placed on a ventilator in intensive care, and healthcare professionals determined the baby nearly died of an overdose of dextromethorphan.

In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, issued a public health advisory on the safe use of non-prescription cough and cold medicine in children. Some reports of serious adverse events associated with the use of these products appear to be the result of giving too much of these medicines to children. An over-the-counter cough and cold medicine can be harmful if more than the recommended amount is used, if it is given too often, or if more than one cough or cold medicine containing the same ingredients are being used.

Dextromethorphan is used to temporarily relieve cough caused by the common cold, the flu, or other conditions.

Cetirizine is used to temporarily relieve the symptoms of hay fever and allergy to other substances.

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