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Information update

Health Canada reminds parents not to give cough and cold medication to children under 6 years old

Starting date:
March 24, 2016
Posting date:
March 24, 2016
Type of communication:
Information Update
Children's Products, Drugs
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Allergy Information, Disease, Dosage, New safety information, Poisoning Hazard
General Public
Identification number:

March 24, 2016
For immediate release

OTTAWA – In Canada, the flu (influenza) season typically runs from November to April. However, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the flu season was late to begin in Canada this year, and we are only now heading into peak season. Over the past few weeks, the number of Canadians, including children, who are sick with the flu has continued to increase.

Health Canada is reminding Canadians that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines* (refer to Table 1) should not be given to children under the age of 6.

In 2009, Health Canada conducted a review and determined over-the-counter cough and cold products in children have not been shown to be effective. In addition, serious harm, including misuse, overdose and side-effects may occur in children under 6 years of age when using over-the-counter cough and cold products, although the risk of such serious harm is low. Despite recommendations and labelling on these products, recent reports indicate that children under 6 are still being given cough and cold medications by parents or caregivers.

Health Canada reminds parents and caregivers:

  • Do not use over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in children under 6.
  • Always check the label first to make sure the medication is suitable for your child.
  • Do not give children medications labelled only for adults.
  • Do not give children aged 6 and up more than one kind of cough and cold medicine (unless under the advice of a healthcare practitioner).  Combining medicines with the same ingredient(s) may cause side effects.
  • Talk to your health care practitioner (e.g. doctor, pharmacist, nurse, etc.) if you have any questions about using cough and cold medicines in children. These professionals can also help make sure there are no interactions with other health products your child may be taking.
  • A cold is not the same as the flu. Cold medications are not effective against the flu.
  • Use this chart comparing cold and flu symptoms to help figure out if your child may have a cold or the flu.
  • If you have any concern with your child’s condition or if symptoms do not improve within 6 to 10 days, or worsen, consult a health care practitioner.
  • Consider these non-medicinal measures that may provide temporary relief from the symptoms of coughs and colds:
    • Allow the child adequate rest
    • Clear nasal passages;
    • Ensure plenty of clear fluids (e.g. water, diluted non-sweetened fruit juice, or clear soups) to prevent dehydration while keeping the throat moist; and
    • Provide a comfortable environment with adequate humidity.

For additional information:

Health Canada’s Decision on Cough and Cold Medicines
Concerns about children's medication
Is It a Cold or the Flu?
Flu (Influenza)

Table 1: Active Ingredients in Cough and Cold Products that Should Not be Given to Children Under the Age of 6
Therapeutic Category (Purpose) Active Ingredients
Antihistamines in cough and cold medicines
(used to treat sneezing, runny nose)
brompheniramine maleate
chlorpheniramine maleate
clemastine hydrogen fumerate
dexbrompheniramine maleate
diphenhydramine hydrochloride
diphenylpyraline hydrochloride
doxylamine succinate
pheniramine maleate
phenyltoloxamine citrate
promethazine hydrochloride
pyrilamine maleate
triprolidine hydrochloride
(used to treat cough)
dextromethorphan hydrobromide
diphenhydramine hydrochloride
Expectorants (used to loosen mucus) guaifenesin (glyceryl guaiacolate)
Decongestants (used to treat congestion) ephedrine hydrochloride/sulphate
phenylephrine hydrochloride/sulphate
pseudoephedrine hydrochloride/sulphate


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