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US Doctors Giving Fewer Cough, Cold Medicines

In this April 9, 2019 photo, Dr. Megan Mahoney types into a computer at the Stanford Family Medicine office in Stanford, California. “We want to do as much outside the walls of the clinic as we can,” says Mahoney, noting that this push to keep patients he
U.S. Doctors Giving Fewer Children Cough and Cold Medicines
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A new study suggests that American doctors are telling patients to take cough or cold medicines less often than they did a few years ago.

The study comes at a time when health experts say these treatments may be ineffective or have serious side effects, mainly in young children.

Recommendations against giving cough and cold medicines to young children have become increasingly common in the United States since 2008. That was the year when the Food and Drug Administration advised against giving “over-the-counter” cough and cold drugs to children under the age of 2. Over-the-counter medicines are sold directly to patients or caregivers without doctors’ orders or prescriptions.

Soon after, drug manufacturers recommended against cough and cold drugs for boys and girls under the age of 4. The American Academy of Pediatrics advised against these drugs for kids under the age of 6.

Researchers wanted to see how these recommendations have influenced doctors’ prescriptions to patients. So they looked at records representing 3.1 billion pediatric visits from 2002 to 2015. All of the patients were babies or children.

The researchers looked at doctors’ prescriptions of drugs for treating coughs and colds. They considered drugs both with and without opioids and antihistamines. Opioids are a group of drugs meant to reduce pain. They are available legally by prescription. Doctors often recommend antihistamines to help people suffering from allergic reactions.

The researchers compared the years before 2008 to the years after 2008. They found a 70% drop in prescriptions for non-opioid cough and cold medicines for children under 2 years old. Recommendations for cough and cold drugs with opioids dropped by 90% among children under 6 years old.

Doctor Daniel Horton was lead author of a report on the study. He is a researcher at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.

“Our study suggests that doctors responded to professional warnings against the use of cough and cold medicines in young children,” he said.

Antihistamine recommendations for young children increased during the period, however.

“Given that many parents want some treatment, one might guess that some doctors started recommending antihistamines more often as a safer alternative to other cough and cold (medicines), even though there is little evidence that they actually work to treat colds in children,” Horton said by email.

The study had limitations. One was that researchers lacked information about whether parents followed recommendations to take or avoid specific medicines. Parents also might have given kids drugs that were not recommended by doctors, the researchers noted. Their findings were published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Generally, colds in children do not need to be treated with medicines, and children will get better on their own, Horton said. He added that, “Children should see their doctors if they are not able to keep up with fluids, appear dehydrated or lethargic, have difficulty breathing, have fevers that persist for several days, or if there are other concerns.”

I’m John Russell.

Lisa Rapaport reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted her report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

coughn. the act of expelling air with a sudden, sharp sound

cold – n. a viral infection of the nose and throat

recommendationn. the act of suggesting or proposing something

pediatric – adj. of or relating to the medical care or illnesses of children

author – n. the writer of a report or book

guess – v. to form an opinion about something

dehydrated – adj. describes the removal of water or liquid from something, such as food

lethargic – adj. feeling a lack of energy or a lack of interest in doing things

fever – n. a higher than normal body temperature

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