The safety of cough and cold medication (CCM) use in children has been questioned. We describe the safety profile of CCMs in children <12 years of age from a multisystem surveillance program.


Cases with adverse events (AEs) after ingestion of at least 1 index CCM ingredient (brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, doxylamine, guaifenesin, phenylephrine, and pseudoephedrine) in children <12 years of age were collected from 5 data sources. An expert panel determined relatedness, dose, intent, and risk factors. Case characteristics and AEs are described.


Of the 4202 cases reviewed, 3251 (77.4%) were determined to be at least potentially related to a CCM, with accidental unsupervised ingestions (67.1%) and medication errors (13.0%) the most common exposure types. Liquid (67.3%), pediatric (75.5%), and single-ingredient (77.5%) formulations were most commonly involved. AEs occurring in >20% of all cases included tachycardia, somnolence, hallucinations, ataxia, mydriasis, and agitation. Twenty cases (0.6%) resulted in death; most were in children <2 years of age (70.0%) and none involved a therapeutic dose. The overall reported AE rate was 0.573 cases per 1 million units (ie, tablets, gelatin capsules, or liquid equivalent) sold (95% confidence interval, 0.553–0.593) or 1 case per 1.75 million units.


The rate of AEs associated with CCMs in children was low. Fatalities occurred even less frequently. No fatality involved a therapeutic dose. Accidental unsupervised ingestions were the most common exposure types and single-ingredient, pediatric liquid formulations were the most commonly reported products. These characteristics present an opportunity for targeted prevention efforts.

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