Local pharmacists give warning of children overdosing on cold and flu medicine

Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 8:44 PM CST
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PLOVER, Wis. (WSAW) - Maybe you or your family has already been hit, but this cold and flu season has all kinds of illnesses going around, especially if you have kids. It’s the reason medical professionals are making sure that when it comes to medications, everyone in your family is using them safely.

RPh. Kent Udulutch, Pharmacist and Owner of Hometown Pharmacy in Plover, says people need to be mindful of the ingredients and the types of medications they are taking. “Sometimes you do need them all, but many of them you don’t need. If you’re not in pain, you don’t need an analgesic included. If you’re not, if you don’t have runny nose or itchy eyes, you don’t need antihistamine. If you’re not stuffed up, you don’t need a decongestant. So make sure your symptoms match up with the product you’re buying.”

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

Also, be mindful that you look at the age or body size recommendations on the medication container. Udulutch says children don’t metabolize these cold medicines the same as adults do. Typically they don’t work as well for adults. He says giving your child more is not better and could cause harm.

Benzonatate is safe when taken as prescribed for adults to suppress a cough, but Udulutch says it can be fatal for children. “Medication that’s not designed to be taken by anybody under 10 years old, and the dose for a 10-year-old is far different than it is for an adult.” Separately, he says, “Prescription medications are a prescription for a reason they should only be taken for by those people they’re prescribed for.”

Ryan Feldman, 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 when you take too much you can sort of turn those nerves off and it can have effects on other organs.”

The national study looking at Benzonate exposure found more than 3,700 single-time exposures were reported to poison control centers. Of those, 77% were accidental ingestions, mostly for children ranging from zero to 5 years old. Feldman and toxicologists with 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 a 20-year period and this was actually mainly in people over the age of 13, about 60%, but the other 40% were under 12. So there were a fair amount of kids and younger people who are getting into this accidentally.” Feldman says every 1 in 12 cases had serious impacts like seizures or a cardiac arrhythmia. “That was almost entirely in the population of people who were taking this medicine intentionally. Maybe they had some self-harm.”

These reasons are why it is always a good idea to keep medications, especially benzonatate, up and away from people who could accidentally or intentionally misuse it and to dispose of it properly when you no longer need 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 with medical professionals about any toxic substance at 1-800-222-1222.