Say No to Codeine for Kids’ Colds

Say No to Codeine for Kids’ Colds

Coughs -- from the common cold or bronchitis -- are no laughing matter and neither is the codeine and other ingredients found in cough meds.

Cough meds are, unfortunately, a major source of recreational drug abuse for teens. Chronic abuse of codeine-laced prescription cough meds can damage your brain’s white matter, where nerve fibers live.

And there’re around 125 OTC products containing dextromethorphan (DXM); when super-dosed it produces hallucinations and dissociative episodes like PCP or special K (ketamine).

So, as you head into cold and flu season, here’s how best to manage cough symptoms and cough meds.

  • Kids shouldn’t be given codeine according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A third get no relief from the drug; one in 12 can suffer seriously slowed breathing. Yet, up to 877,000 prescriptions are written annually for kids’ codeine cough meds. And no kids under four should ever be given the OTC cough suppressant DXM.
  • Most coughs are viral. That means only around 10% respond to antibiotics.
  • The best medicine for coughs? Dark honey. Try 2 teaspoons 30 minutes before bedtime, as well as steaming, drinking hot tea and using a purified water and saline nasal spray -- a neti pot is one of our favorite choices, but it must be kept clean and sterile.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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