Professor Colin Robertson, director of respiratory medicine at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, told a GPs conference in Melbourne recently that doctors and parents routinely prescribe and administer cough syrups to babies "to make themselves feel better, but they do nothing for the child".
"In fact, it's becoming increasingly obvious that they do more harm than good, so we need to ban the practice all together," News.com.au quoted Prof Robertson, as saying.
In August, the U.S food and drug administration issued cautions regarding the use of over-the-counter cough preparation for children, particularly those aged under two, prompting a national voluntary withdrawal of medications specifically designed for babies.
The warnings were in response to a report from the US Centre for Disease Control, which documented over 1500 emergency hospitalisations of young children who had suffered adverse effects from cough medication out of which three died.
Other studies, including an updated Cochrane Review issued this year, found no evidence to support the use of cough medicine in children in general.
"Given that there's no good evidence of benefit and there's the potential for serious adverse events it seems quite appropriate to take notice of the FDA warnings and ban the use of cough medications in children under two," said Prof Robertson.
"And parents of older children should be made aware that they are ineffective," he added.
He further revealed that a few Australian products were specifically designed for infants but households regularly used children preparations in lower doses for babies.
"The dilemma is that colds are common and they cause symptoms in children and as parents and physicians we feel obliged to do something to make them better," he said.
"By giving them something it makes the prescriber and the administrator feels better but doesn't do anything for the child and puts them potentially at risk.
"Therefore they need to be disciplined to change their practice," he added.
Prof Robertson also explained that most claims in advertising for cough medicine products were "ill-founded" because they were based on poorly designed randomised controlled trials.