Pharmacists need to get advice right on cough and cold medicines for children

NPS MedicineWise is urging pharmacists to review the recent Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) advice about the use of cough and cold medicines in children under 11 after reports from the NPS Medicines Line suggest consumers are receiving conflicting advice from pharmacists.

NPS Head of Programs Ms Karen Kaye says that despite the TGA advice, there are reports some pharmacies are continuing to sell cough and cold medicines for children under 6 years, while others are refusing to sell these medicines for children over 6 years without a prescription.

“This is not only misleading for consumers, but it is a serious safety concern. We urge pharmacists to review the recent advice from the TGA and discontinue sales of cough and cold medicines for children under 6,” says Ms Kaye.

“For children between the ages of 6 and 11, cough and cold medicines can still be sold but only on the advice of a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner. Despite what some pharmacists are saying, these medicines do not require a prescription and their scheduling remains the same.”

As of 1 September 2012 labels on all cough and cold medicines will be changed to reflect the new advice. In the transition phase, current stock can still be sold – where indicated – until the expiry date has been reached.

The new cough and cold medicine warnings — released on 15 August 2012 — followed a review by the TGA which found there was little credible research showing the effectiveness of these medicines, particularly in children. For children under 6, the potential for harm outweighed the potential benefits, with some of the active ingredients shown to cause serious side effects such as seizures or fits.

“In light of these restrictions, pharmacists and other health professionals are in a good position to advise parents and carers about the management of symptoms and the self-limiting nature of most viral respiratory infections,” says Ms Kaye.

“Providing practical advice for parents or carers to ease the discomfort of their sick child can go a long way. Most importantly the child should have plenty of rest, drink plenty of water and avoid exposure to cigarette smoke.”

“Parents or carers can also supervise their child while they breathe in steam from a hot bath or shower in a closed room. A drink made with hot water, honey and lemon is a simple and effective home remedy, and for older children an ice cube or a throat lozenge can soothe a sore throat. If the child has a fever (a temperature higher than 38.5°C) and is uncomfortable, paracetamol can be recommended.”

If a child’s symptoms do not improve, or worsen, parents or carers should be encouraged to see a doctor or nurse practitioner.

“Importantly, pharmacists should aim to provide parents and carers with consistent information about the use of cough and cold medicines in children which is in line with TGA advice,” says Ms Kaye.

Updated information about cough and cold medicines is available on the NPS MedicineWise website at

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia also released a fact sheet for pharmacists summarising the new TGA advice and providing examples of best practice counselling on cough and cold medicines for young children. A fact sheet for pharmacy staff has also been developed and is available on the PSA website.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia also has information for pharmacists available on its website

People with questions about their medicines should speak to their health professional or call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424, 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday).


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.