Following recent decisions by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other drug supervisory agencies, the Health Ministry has decided to restrict the use of cough and cold medications for children up to the age of six.
The ministry said on Tuesday that infants under the age of one year should not be given such syrups, which have been shown to have no significant effect in relieving symptoms while at the same causing potential harm to children in this age group.
In addition, these products cannot be purchased for children aged one to six without a doctor's prescription. For children over six, only a pharmacist can sell these medications without a prescription, as they will not be sold by supermarkets, petrol stations and other retailers where some other over-the-counter drugs are sold.
Last year, the FDA issued an advisory statement warning the public against giving children under the age of two over-the-counter cold medicines and cough syrups - including decongestants, expectorants, antihistamines, antitussives and other cough suppressants. They were not recommended for older children as well. The FDA said that although the dangerous side effects of such medications - including speedy heart rates, convulsions, reduced levels of consciousness and even death - were rare, their minimal efficacy was not worth the risk.
The American authorities found that 54 children (most under two) died from decongestants and 69 from antihistamines over three decades in the US. Studies have shown that water, honey (but this should never been given to an infant before his or her first birthday), chicken soup and steam inhalation are much more effective against cough and cold symptoms than the syrups. The risk was higher when children were given the products too often, if they contained more than one active ingredient or if taken in higher doses.
In any case, none of the pharmaceutical companies that make them is able to claim the drugs "cure" the cold, but only that they may mildly relieve symptoms, which pass by themselves in any case. The major manufacturers of the syrups voluntarily withdrew such medications aimed at younger children.