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If your child is coughing and suffering a fair amount of pain, doctors often prescribe a drug to suppress the ache and cough. Only problem, say California researchers, is that the drug they dish out can cause life-threatening breathing problems in about 8 percent of the kids who take it.
The dangerous pharmaceutical is codeine.
“Despite strong evidence against the use of codeine in children, the drug continues to be prescribed to large numbers of them each year,” says researcher Sunitha Kaiser, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital. “It can be prescribed in any clinical setting, so it is important to decrease codeine prescription to children in other settings such as clinics and hospitals, in addition to emergency rooms.”
Instead of prescription cough medicines containing codeine, says Kaiser, doctors who feel the need to prescribe drugs to kids should be recommending dark honey or offering items like ibuprofen or hydrocodone.
“Many children are at risk of not getting any benefit from codeine, and we know there are safer, more effective alternatives available,” Kaiser says. “A small portion of children are at risk of fatal toxicity from codeine, mainly in situations that make them more vulnerable to the effects of high drug levels such as after a tonsillectomy.”
Kaiser points out that ibuprofen is usually better than codeine for treating pain, and hydrocodone is a safer, more effective opiate drug. Dark honey is more effective than over-the-counter cough medicines, although you shouldn’t give honey to kids younger than one year old.