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Rise in reports of cough medicine poisoning among children, says FDA


HQ Team

November 15, 2022: A study published by the Food and Drug Administration found that poison control centres in the U.S. saw an increase in reports of children ingesting a type of prescription cough medicine.

Reports of pediatric poisonings involving the drug, benzonatate, increased each year from 2010 to 2018, the study found. Benzonatate, sold under the brand name Tessalon, is prescribed for colds and coughs or the flu. It is not approved for children younger than 10 years old.

More than 4,600 cases were reported to poison control centres. The biggest increase of nearly 25 per cent was seen from 2015 to 2016. Some instances were of accidental ingestions, and others were taken intentionally, commonly among children above 10 years, according to the study.

Cases with severe effects were low. However, accidental or inappropriate use of benzonatate, which comes in gel capsules, can lead to serious health conditions among children, including convulsions, and cardiac arrest that can prove fatal sometimes.

The rise in pediatric poisonings involving benzonatate coincided with an increase in the number of prescriptions that were filled for the drug over the same period. The study points out that it might be a result of public efforts to curb the use of cough medications that contain narcotics and opioids. These cough medicines come with strong safety warnings to limit their use.

Benzonatate is the only non-narcotic prescription cough medicine available in the U.S.

Precautions against easy access

The findings should be a warning to doctors to be more careful when they prescribe these kinds of medications, said study author Dr. Ivone Kim, a pediatrician and senior medical officer at the FDA.

It should encourage parents to keep these medicines out of the reach of children. Cough medications are not considered to be harmful; hence unaware parents are not cautious about keeping them safe and away from children.

Drugmakers may also need to reassess how the drug is manufactured, experts added, as the capsule is gel-like and resembles candies.

The study wants doctors to provide sound counsel about when and how to use the medication said.

Parents can keep their children safe, too, by keeping the medication behind a locked door or on a high shelf that cannot be accessed. They can also talk with their children about the drugs they are taking.

It is also crucial for parents to be aware of the symptoms of an overdose, including restlessness, tremors, convulsions or coma.  If they notice such symptoms, prompt medical care, should be sought.

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