After the Ban on Children’s Cold Medicine: What You Can Do

Last week Food and Drug Administration (FDA) experts recommended that all infant cough and cold products be removed from the market. The New York Time reports that the ban would apply to hundreds of popular medicines such as Toddler’s Dimetapp and Triaminic Infant. The ban would apply to the use of decongestants for children under the age of two, and the use of antihistamines for children under the age of six.

If you are a parent, first realize that if the ban goes through, you are not giving up anything of value. These products only suppress symptoms; they do not cure coughs or colds. The ban has been proposed because these products can have serious side effects. Over 100 deaths of children have been attributed to these drugs.

According to Linda White, M.D., although these drugs do make children drowsy, they have little effect on cold symptoms. Even when they had a little effect, they only suppress symptoms. They do not allow the body to restore health, so they are not desirable to use.

When you suppress symptoms, you set up a potential rebound effect: The illness is temporarily suppressed and then returns with increased severity at a later date. The mucus that should be eliminated during a cold is helping to cleanse the body. Indeed, infected secretions urgently need to be expelled rather than dried up by antihistamines.

It is important to have respect for the body’s capacity to heal and to have tolerance that the process may take a few days. The few days may be a good opportunity for you and your child to slow down. Most colds do not require consultation with a physician.

Realize too that this is an opportunity to get reacquainted with traditional remedies that will help relieve your child’s discomfort. These remedies include steam vaporizers and steaming bowls of home made soup. For safety, if you use a steam vaporizer, be sure it is safely out of the reach of your child.

Begin to rely more on preventative care and less on trying to fix health problems after they arise. No matter what you do, your child will catch colds; but there are steps that you can take to decrease both their frequency and severity. These steps include:

  • Reducing the use of sugar. Sugar suppresses the immunological system. According to U.S. News and World Report, in one year, the average American consumes approximately 142 pounds of sugar and another 61 pounds of high fructose corn syrup. Some of this is consumed in the form of soda of which the average American drinks 52 gallons per year. In the same year, the average American eats only 8 pounds of broccoli. Here then is one small step to improve your family’s health—work toward having your family’s consumption of broccoli exceed their consumption of sugar.
  • Reducing the consumption of diary products, especially milk. Diary products produce mucus. Americans have been hypnotized to believe that their children can’t grow up healthy and strong if they don’t drink cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is indeed a perfect food if you are a calf. There are foods other than milk that are rich in calcium and other nutrients. In order to increase calcium consumption, as well as many other vital nutrients, eat more green vegetables from the crucifer family. These vegetables include broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and mustard greens.
  • Drinking more water. Soda, milk, juice, etc. are not substitutes for water. Some physicians, including the late Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, believe that chronic dehydration is a major factor contributing to many illnesses. There is no substitute for plain water.

You may be thinking, “This will take too much time. My child will complain.” Indeed it does take more time—but see it as an investment in both the health of your child and in a more balanced family life style. You will be teaching your child healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

9 Responses to After the Ban on Children’s Cold Medicine: What You Can Do

  1. Hilary says:

    What a load of codswallop. I’m not questioning the FDA decision which was presumably based on a review of actual scientific evidence, but do you have any evidence-base whatsoever for the advice YOU give? Dairy products have nothing to do with mucus production. Sugar rots teeth and contributes to obesity but I’d question your claim that it suppresses the immunological system. Other drinks prevent dehydration just as well as water does. And “steaming” bowls of home-made soup are unsafe anywhere remotely near children under five, let alone two.

    Incidentally, your article is also patronising and unsympathetic to parents facing very real problems. You don’t sound much like you’ve ever looked after a young child who coughs until s/he vomits each evening in bed when s/he gets a cold (as many though by no means all kids will do). Even if a decongestant only suppresses symptoms temporarily I can assure you that makes a night-time dose very “desirable to use” indeed.

    I can’t imagine why anyone thought this was worth posting on reddit.science but now they have I hope you’ll get a deluge of critical comments.

  2. jstevens says:

    Great tips on traditional remedies. I also like to avoid medications for my kids, 3 and 5, whenever possible. We also use vitamins, eucalytus oil in the bath, and homeopathic remedies. Most of the time the kids are well within 24 hours. And I find that I can fight off a cold quite frequently with the right supplements. I wrote about the importance of being prepared for colds, flu, and the dreaded stomach bug in my blog recently. If you want to take a look, the URL is http://jstevens.wordpress.com/2007/09/29/are-you-ready-for-cold-and-flu-season/

  3. Hilary,

    You seem to be so sure of your views; I’m responding on the chance that you are not. Let me just consider one of my assertions that you object to–namely sugar’s effect on our immunological system. If you Google the topic you will find over 950,000 of pages on the issue. Here is one.

    I am the parent of twins who have been sick the same night. As my essay points out nothing we can do can completely prevent illness, but there are steps that can to reduce both incidence and severity. I’m puzzled why you would conclude that this advice is “unsympathetic?”

  4. Jane says:

    Hilary – please do some research.

    I am so relieved to hear that the FDA is banning these drugs, although I wish they would have figured this out before thousands of babies had to suffer through severe health problems, and worse yet, some had to die. I’ve never understood what seems to be typical protocol for drugs – until they kill someone, they’re totally fine. I’ve always been a supporter of natural healing and building the body’s immune system against disease vs. suppressing symptoms.

    My daughter is 11 months old and just caught her very first cold. She is still breastfeeding, so I took lots of vitamin C and other immune building herbs such as Echinacea and Elderberry so that she would get them through the breastmilk. We also used a humidifier every night and hoisted her crib up on one end so that her head would be elevated. While it was difficult for a couple nights, she kicked the cold in less than 4 days without the use of any drugs, not even tylenol.

    It’s important that parents learn as much about medicine on their own instead of trusting the drug companies who are making a profit off the many harmful medicines they proclaim to be perfectly safe for our children. The FDA is also not necessarily out for our best interests, as they are a government organization constantly swayed by lobbyist groups who represent the drug companies.

  5. Thanks Jane for your thoughtful comments. Regulatory agencies being “captured” by the industry that they are supposed to regulate is a common phenomenon.

    As you point out there is no substitute for being informed. An understanding of alternatives helps us trust that the body will heal and that there is usually no need to suppress symptoms.

  6. Great advice Jane, Stevens, & Barry I was going to comment on some of the exact same things. Although my kids are older I also give them good ‘ole fashioned cod liver oil. For
    some odd reason it seems to help them avoid the cold and flu’s that are hanging out at the schools. Great blog….Di

  7. Samantha says:

    I have to say, I agree with Hilary a little. Obviously we do not wish to over medicate our children and I am the last one to drug my child at the first sign of a stuffy nose. Traditionally I opt for the most natural and healthy course of action. I use antibiotics with great caution. I do not give my child juice or pop and limit her sugar intake. But, she still gets sick from time to time. There are times when she has coughed until she vomits (last night actually) or has been so congested that she cannot sleep. I have tried all of the suggested remedies, including sitting in a steamy bathroom, eucalyptus, etc. But, I have to say, at bedtime, there is a lot to be said for relieving the symptoms of a cold so that my daughter can get a much needed good night’s sleep. Of course, there are many parent who over-medicate, mix medications and do not read dosage labels properly. I am not one of them.

  8. John says:

    Drugs should be a last resort. Start with a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise. Get yourself in good physical shape first so you will be in the best position to ward off or to fight any illness you contract.

    When you are sick, use treatments that make sense. By this I mean something that has some good testing behind it and there is some possible method of action. There is some validity to a few natural or herbal treatments (most drugs from Big Pharma come from plants), but the vast majority are wishful thinking that have no possible expalantion for how they could do the things people claim they do. For example, cold eeze and airborne and such are all major scams that have no ingredients that could possibly have any mechanism for increasing immune function or fighting illness. In fact, one relies on a “special” sugar from ginseng. Yet people will use these remedies and at the same time claim sugars are bad and causing problems.

    Be smart. While we should review new drugs and their evaluations with skepticism, we should maintain a healthier skepticism for all of the “natural” remedies that people are peddling with nothing more than anectodal evidence. Search the internet and you can find people claiming they have treated just about everything with any one of a hundred different remedies.

  9. Nick Kappos says:

    This author is an idiot.

    How about YOU go without medicine next time you are ill? How about dont take anything for pain when you have a migraine? Yeah, next time you break your leg how about no morphine or fentanyl? Yeah, pain is just your bodies natural response. It wont help you heal…..oh wait, studies show that relieving pain CAN help you heal faster simply because the experience of pain shuts down the nervous system and slows healing. Maybe the misery of your child isnt good for them?

    I dont like to over medicate. I dont like giving lots of drugs for a sniffle, but tonight my daughter cant breath. Seriously, she cannot breath out of her nose. Huge gobs of snot are dripping into her mouth and she has been screaming loudly for the last 12 hours.

    So I look up the directions that were around PRE-BAN, and give her half a dose anyway….guess what? She can breath again. Like magic.

    These medicines can save a childs LIFE if they cant breath. Children are suffering because a minority of parents are idiots and double up on tylenol when they combine cold medicine products….it was the tylenol overdose that caused the most problems, but children’s dimetapp does not have any.

    FYI, there are some herbal alternatives for cold medicine….Micheal Tierra’s ‘Planetary Formulas” has a product called ‘Old Indian Cherry bark syrup’and it actually works. The only problem is that it might contain honey and is not for children under 9 months to a year. A year to play it safe.

    So….if your child COULD NOT BREATH, an immediate acute life threatening condition which can be solved with easy OTC childrens medications which were in use for half a century before this new craze started…would you give them the medicine, or would you take them to the ER for over a thousand dollars? So many people use the ER for primary care that you could be stuck in there for 8 hours just to treat something that could be solved with a now banned OTC med.

    You can still get these drugs fortunately, they just are not marketed to children. Go ahead and buy them and use them if you wish, and look up online the doses they used to suggest for 3 months and up. Yes, Childrens Dimetapp used to be recomended for 6 month old children, like my daughter….ignore new age warnings if your child cant breath, but also dont be an idiot and over medicate, and dont double up on various drugs (especially tylenol) when you combine products….in fact, just dont combine products and make sure what you are giving has an antihistamine if they cant braeth….you dont want to then add the antihistamine later then double up on the decongestant. Wait four to 6 hours if you are unsure.

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