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Don’t Underestimate the Risks of Over-The-Counter Medications for Your Kids

David Epstein, MD, MS, FAAP discusses the importance of recognizing that over-the-counter medications can cause poisoning in infants and children.

May 20, 2023

A recent article published in Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, described characteristics of fatal poisonings among infants and young children in the United States.

They identified 731 deaths from poisonings for children 5 years of age or less during the time period from 2005 to 2018 in a national poisoning registry.

The piece of data that stood out for me was not the fact that opioids were the leading cause of death from poisonings, but that over-the-counter pain, cold, and allergy medications were the second leading cause of death from poisonings in this age group.

Over-The-Counter Medications: A Surprising Danger to Infants and Young Children

While 47.3% of deaths were caused by opioids, 14.8% of the poisoning deaths were caused by over-the-counter pain, cold, and allergy medications.

This group included over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, acetylsalicylic acid, and cough/cold/allergy medications, such as diphenhydramine and dextromethorphan.

These remedies are ubiquitous in many different forms of medications that are easily accessible and likely found in every household.

 

The piece of data that stood out for me was not the fact that opioids were the leading cause of death from poisonings, but that over-the-counter pain, cold, & allergy medications were the second leading cause of death from poisonings… Click To Tweet

Poisoning deaths in this age group do not seem that common, given the number of deaths relative to the vast number of over-the-counter medications likely given over the 13-year time period for which the poisonings were evaluated. However, the sheer fact that they occurred at all is devastating because these deaths are completely preventable.

With this age group, the medications need to be given accidentally (or intentionally) at much higher than recommended doses by someone else or the infant or child needs to find them in a location that is easily accessible to them without child-proofing barriers to ingesting the medications. In either scenario, the result can be deadly.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down

This article describes the characteristics and circumstances of poisonings that reinforce the importance of proper supervision and putting barriers in place to prevent infants and young children from coming into contact with these substances.

Because over-the-counter medications are so common and easy to obtain, we feel more comfortable with them and can forget that they can still be dangerous.

Parents and caregivers need to be vigilant and take proper steps to prevent poisoning from over-the-counter medications.

 

“Because over-the-counter medications are so common and easy to obtain, we feel more comfortable with them and can forget that they can still be dangerous.”

 

This article stands as a cautionary tale for all of us. While over-the-counter medication poisonings are overshadowed by opioid poisonings, we should not let our guard down when it comes to seemingly harmless medications that can pose a risk to our infants and young children.

Do you think enough emphasis is placed on the potential dangers of over-the-counter medications for infants and young children?

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.

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