Health beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold: Codeine and Kids

Last week a study was published about codeine prescriptions for children that reviewed some potential safety issues with this medication. Today we are going to be talking about this study and some medication safety tips for parents of young children.

Lindsay: First, what was the concern with codeine in children?

Dr. Arnold: Codeine is metabolized differently in different children. Some children are slow metabolizers and do not get the intended therapeutic effect. Some other children metabolize it very quickly, which can lead to serious side effects. There have even been rare cases of children dying as a result.

Lindsay: What should parents know about the findings?

Dr. Arnold: The study showed that codeine is still being prescribed for children despite the potential risks. There are alternatives to codeine, so you can discuss other options with your healthcare provider.

Lindsay: Can you tell us a little more about age recommendations for using cough and cold medicines in kids?

Dr. Arnold: In the Choosing Wisely campaign, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using cough and cold medicines for respiratory illnesses in children under the age of four. They state that these medicines have little benefit for children of this age group and may pose a health risk from side effects. Some experts recommend avoiding cold and cough medicines in children under age 6. Honey has been shown to help soothe coughs in children, but should never be given to children less than age 1, because of the risk of botulism.

Lindsay: We sometimes hear that aspirin should not be given to children. Why is that?

Dr. Arnold: Aspirin should be avoided in children and teenagers because of the risk of a rare but potentially serious condition called Reye Syndrome.

Lindsay: What are some issues related to medication dosing that parents should keep in mind?

Dr. Arnold: It’s always important to read the directions on the label. Be aware of the age and weight appropriate recommendations and if you have questions, check with your healthcare provider. Do not give your child extra because they seem especially sick. It is also important to use the correct measuring device and not estimate using a non-standard item like a kitchen teaspoon.

Lindsay: In terms of medication risks in children, what else should parents do to try to keep their kids safe?

Dr. Arnold: 67% of emergency room visits for medication poisoning in children occurred because medicines were left in accessible locations such as purses or counter tops. Keep medications up and out of sight of children. Also, don’t forget about items you might not think of as medicine, such as vitamins and eye drops, and make sure to keep those in a safe location as well.


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