We've all heard about how a doctor-prescribed dose of anti-allergy medicine can help kids calm down and sleep better especially on plane rides. But, perhaps like most of you, we always think twice about it especially after we heard about these tragedies.
Earlier in March of this year, 4-month-old baby Adam Seagull was found dead at an unlicensed day care center in Fairfield, Connecticut in the United States. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was the first suspected cause of death because there were no signs of trauma nor was he sick at the time. But police officials have now ruled that his death will be treated as a homicide as the toxicology report showed high levels of Benadryl, a common anti-allergy drug, in the baby's system. Adam's official cause of death was acute diphenhydramine intoxication. Local news site Fairfield Citizen Online reported that day care owner gave Adam Benadryl around noon and then placed him in a play pen for a nap. Three hours later, she couldn't wake him up.
A similar case in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, was also reported last month. Eight-month-old baby Haddix Mulkey died from anti-allergy medicine-- again Benadryl--overdose in May. According to Ohio news site Columbus Dispatch, the day care caregiver told the police that Haddix was fussy so she gave him "an adult dose" of Benadryl to quiet him down and help him sleep. She later found him unresponsive.
These two stories should serve as an urgent reminder for parents and caregivers everywhere: Do not administer any type on medicine to a child without strictly following the package instructions and the proper direction of a pediatrician.
Anti-allergy medicines are not manufactured to help a child sleep. It just happens that drowsiness is one of the side effects. If you plan on using the cough or cold medicine to help a child sleep better, it's best to consult a pediatrician (like what this dad did to make her daughter's first airplane ride smoother). The doctor can advise you on the proper dosing, which is computed based on a baby's age and weight, and the proper timing as well. You cannot just copy a dosage that another doctor has prescribed to another child. It doesn't work that way.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already warned against giving medications containing the decongestants ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, and the antihistamines diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl), brompheniramine or chlorpheniramine to children under 2 years old. According to its consumer advisory, "These safety concerns revealed that there were many reports of harm, and even death, to children who used these products. These reports of harm occurred when the child received too much medication such as in cases as accidental ingestion, unintentional overdose, or after a medication dosing error. In those reports of harm that lead to a child’s death, most of those children were under two years of age."
Cough and cold products, including anti-allergy meds, specifically for children under 2 years old, have been taken off the market since 2007. The products you see in the drug store today are formulated for kids ages 2 to 5 but should be taken with doctor's instruction. For older kids, ages 6 to 11, always read the package instructions on proper dosage, and stick to the measuring cup that comes with the product to avoid errors.
If your child has a cough or cold, read here to find out what he needs.