April 10, 2008 / 2:10 PM / 12 years ago

Kids' access to cold drugs keeps ERs busy

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Most children’s emergency department visits for side effects associated with taking cough and cold medications result from unsupervised ingestion, according to findings reported in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate this to reflect more than 7000 visits each year.

Side effects “in children from cough and cold medications have been identified as a public health issue with clinical and policy implications,” Dr. Daniel S. Budnitz and colleagues from the CDC in Atlanta, write. Data estimating the rates of illness among children who take these drugs could be useful in targeting age-related interventions.

In the current study, the researchers identified emergency department visits for cough and cold medicine-related side effects among children younger than 12 years of age who were selected from a sample of 63 US emergency departments from 2004 to 2005.

From their data, the team estimates that 7,091 children annually visited emergency departments for side effects of taking cough and cold medications. This accounts for 5.7 percent of emergency department visits for all side effects in this age group.

The investigators report that 64 percent of emergency department visits related to cough and cold medications involved children between the ages of 2 and 5 years. Overall, 66 percent of the estimated emergency department visits were attributed to unsupervised ingestion of cough and cold medications, which was most common among children between the ages of 2 and 5 years.

The majority of the children (93 percent) were treated and released from the emergency department. Overall, 23 percent of children underwent stomach decontamination.

“As long as these products continue to be marketed for use in children, additional safety interventions should address the primary cause of injuries from these products: unsupervised ingestions which are a particular safety concern in 2- to 5-year olds,” Budnitz and colleagues state.

“Although cough and cold medications represent a small proportion of all emergency department visits for side effects among pediatric patients,” they conclude, “focus on these medications highlights how targeted strategies, particularly packaging innovations, could reduce pediatric side effects from other medications.”

SOURCE: Pediatrics, April 2008.

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