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Over-the-counter cough and cold preparations: Approach to pediatric poisoning

Shan Yin, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Michele M Burns, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


Orally administered over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications contain a variety of active ingredients including acetaminophen, antihistamines, dextromethorphan, decongestants (eg, alpha adrenergic agonists such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine), and ethanol. These medications frequently cause significant toxicity in children younger than six years of age.

Topical agents, such as imidazoline ophthalmic and nasal drops (eg, tetrahydrozoline or oxymetazoline), and camphor containing products are also frequently used to control cough and cold symptoms and can have major toxicity.

The approach to pediatric poisoning from OTC cough and cold medication in children will be reviewed here. The toxicity to children posed by individual ingredients (eg, acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, imidazolines, or camphor) and the use of cough and cold medications in children are discussed separately:

(See "Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of acetaminophen (paracetamol) poisoning in children and adolescents" and "Management of acetaminophen (paracetamol) poisoning in children and adolescents".)

(See "Anticholinergic poisoning".)

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 29, 2016.
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