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Parents Often Puzzled by Medicine Labels

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

A new study has found the labeling on children’s over-the-counter medicines can be confusing to parents. Simpler language and clearer graphics are needed to guide the selection and safe use of the medications said the study’s lead author.

“The age indications of over-the-counter pediatric cold and cough products are difficult for caregivers to understand” wrote lead researcher Dr. Russell Rothman, an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The study appears in the June 2009 issue of Pediatrics.

In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised against the use of over-the-counter cough and cold medications in children younger than two and the drug makers voluntarily removed many of the products from the market. Labeling was changed on others.

Because products intended for kids ages four and older still remain on the market, Rothman and his research team decided to test parents’ understanding of the information conveyed on labels.

They asked 182 parents to read labels of four over-the-counter cold and cough medicines. The labels were all from products that later were pulled from the market because they had been labeled for “infant” use. The labels advised consulting a physician if the product was to be used in children two-years-old.

About 86 percent of the time, parents though that the medicines could be given to children younger than two, the study found. In addition, dosing instructions were often not looked at or understood. More than half the time, the parents said they would give these drugs to a 13-month-old child with cold symptoms, even though the label said to consult a physician first.

The parents said they were influenced by pictures of infants, teddy bears and droppers, and the word “infant” on the labels. Those with poorer math skills were more likely to give inappropriate answers the researchers found.

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