Local pharmacists warn of children overdosing on cold and flu medicines

PLOVER, Wis. (WSAW) — You or your family may already be affected, but this cold and flu season brings all kinds of illnesses, especially if you have kids. It’s why medical professionals make sure that when it comes to medications, everyone in your family is using them safely.

Rph. Kent Udulutch, a pharmacist and owner of Hometown Pharmacy in Plover, says people should be aware of the ingredients and the types of medications they are taking. “Sometimes you need them all, but you don’t need much. If you’re not in pain, you don’t need painkillers. If you’re not, if you don’t have a runny nose or itchy eyes, you don’t need an antihistamine. If you’re not full, you don’t need a decongestant. So make sure your symptoms match the product you are buying.

For example, some medicines may look different, but both contain paracetamol. You don’t want to give or take double doses of that to your kids because it could cause serious problems. You can take a drug containing paracetamol at the same time as ibuprofen, but really don’t take what you don’t need. Another example is medications that address multiple symptoms.

Also, be sure to look at the age or body size recommendations on the medication container. Udulutch says kids don’t metabolize these cold medicines the same way adults do. Usually they don’t work very well for adults. He says that giving your child more is not better and can cause harm.

Benzonatate is safe when taken as directed for adults to suppress coughs, but Udulutch says it can be fatal for children. “Medication that is not designed to be taken by anyone under the age of 10, and the dose for a 10-year-old is very different than for an adult.” Separately, he says, “Prescription drugs are prescription for a reason why they should only be taken by those people for whom they are prescribed.”

Ryan Feldman, a clinical toxicologist at the Wisconsin Poison Center, says it’s been prescribed as a safer alternative to opiate cough suppressants. “It blocks nerves in your throat and lungs that make you want to cough. And if you take too much, you can sort of turn off those nerves and that can affect other organs.”

The national survey of benzonate exposure found that more than 3,700 single exposures were reported to poison control centers. Of those, 77% were accidental ingestion, mostly for children zero to five years old. Feldman and toxicologists at the Wisconsin Poison Center did a 20-year analysis of cases here in the state and found a slightly different trend.

“We saw about 265 exposures over 20 years and this was actually mostly in people over 13 years old, about 60%, but the other 40% were under 12 years old. So there were quite a few kids and younger people who come ended up in this by accident. Feldman says every 1 in 12 cases had serious consequences, such as seizures or cardiac arrhythmias. “That was almost entirely in the population of people who deliberately took this drug. Maybe they had some self-harm.”

For these reasons, it is always a good idea to keep any medication, especially benzonatate, on hand and away from people who may accidentally or intentionally misuse it, and to dispose of it properly if you no longer needs it. Ask your pharmacist if you have any questions about a benzonate prescription, and you can always call the 24-hour Wisconsin Poison Center to talk to medical professionals about a poison at 1-800-222-1222.

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