Nearly one in 10 children in the U.S. uses one or more cough and cold medications during a given week, according to new research from Boston University.
While cough and cold medications for children are widely marketed in the United States, how often they are used had not been scientifically studied.
This new finding, from researchers at Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center, gives credibility to recent revelations that cough and cold medication use can lead to serious adverse effects, including death.
To define the frequency and patterns of use, the researchers analysed data between 1999 and 2006 from the Slone Survey, a national telephone survey of medication use in a representative sample of the U.S. population. The authors considered all oral medicines that are approved by the FDA to treat children's coughs and colds.
The researchers found that in a given week, at least one cough and cold medication was used by 10.1 percent of U.S. children. In terms of active ingredients contained in these medications, exposure was highest to decongestants and antihistamines (6.3 percent each), followed by anti-cough ingredients (4.1 percent) and expectorants (1.5 percent).
Exposures to cough and cold medications was highest among 2 to 5 year olds, but was also high among children under 2 years of age.
Among all the products used, 64.2 percent contained more than one active ingredient. The most commonly used product types were single-ingredient antihistamines, antihistamine/decongestant combinations and antihistamine/decongestant/anti-cough combinations.
The researchers also found the use of cough and cold medications declined from 12.3 percent in 1999-2000 to 8.4 percent in 2005-2006.
According to the researchers the especially common use of cough and cold medications among young children is noteworthy.
"Given concerns about potential harmful effects and lack of evidence proving that these medications are effective in young children, the fact that one in ten U.S. children is using one of these medications is striking," said lead author Louis Vernacchio, MD, MSc, an assistant professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine.
The findings were presented at the 2008 Pediatric Academic Societies' and Asian Society for Pediatric Research Joint Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.