Pharmacists still advise to give kids cough meds: poll

Pharmacists may still be advising parents of children aged under six to give them cough and cold remedies, a new survey suggests

The latest Australian Child Health Poll has found parents are still spending millions of dollars every year on cough and cold medicines which could harm their children – an estimated $67 million annually for children aged under 15 years.

And a third of children aged under six receive over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.

Director of the poll, paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes says: “We all struggle to cope with our kids’ coughs and colds over winter, but for young children these medicines are known to be ineffective, and in some cases potentially harmful.

“What’s particularly disturbing is that among parents who are giving these products to their young children, 74% do so on the advice of a pharmacist, and 64% on the advice of a doctor.”

Consultant pharmacist Debbie Rigby reiterated the TGA’s 2012 warning on these products today.

“It’s basically a safety issue and also there’s lack of evidence and efficacy in this age group,” she says.

“But it’s pretty tough for pharmacists: the reality is that parents will be aware of the restriction and won’t necessarily tell you the true indication for use.

“So I think we still have to explain to parents the potential for harm, and why they are restricted in young children. I don’t think anybody actually wants to do harm to their child, so it’s about helping them understand that potential.”

The poll also found that a substantial proportion of parents have given their children paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat cough (27%) or induce sleep (10%).

The leading place of purchase of OTC medicines reported by parents was pharmacies, with 92% of those parents who reported giving their children over-the-counter medicines indicating that they purchased one or more of the medicines from a pharmacy.

A third (33%) had bought medicines from a supermarket and a minority from health food stores (0.5%) or online (0.5%).

“These results raise real concerns regarding the quality and safety of practice of some health care providers when it comes to OTC cough medicines in young children,” the study authors said.

“The prominent role of pharmacies as both an information source and primary place of purchase for these inappropriately used medicines warrants further investigation.”

The poll also found that nationally, Australians spend around $74 million a year on vitamins and supplements for children aged under 15.

And one in seven parents use OTC medicines to aid sleep or relax their children for travel, such as on flights or car trips.

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