When your child is suffering from a cold or allergies, you want to be able to relieve her symptoms as quickly as possible. However, with concerns over the safety of over-the-counter cold medicines in very young children and a number of product recalls making news headlines over the past several years, it’s easy to be confused about what is and what is not safe to give your child.

About Zicam

Zicam is a family of over-the-counter, or OTC, products from the health-care company, Matrixx Initiatives Inc. Most Zicam products help to provide relief for cold and allergy symptoms and are approved for use by both adults and children. However, before giving any of these products to your child, talk to your doctor and carefully read the product labels. The age limits for Zicam medications vary from product to product, as do the active ingredients.

Zicam Use in Children

Like other OTC cold medications, Zicam is not for use in very young children. In 2008, the United States Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, issued an advisory against using OTC cough and cold medicines in children under 2 because of potentially serious and even life-threatening side effects. No Zicam product is recommended for any child under the age of 3, and some products have even more restrictive age limits. For example, some are for use by children over age 6 only, while others are not recommended for children under age 12.

Active Ingredients

Read the product labels to understand the active ingredients. For example, zinc gluconate, a compound of the mineral zinc, is the active ingredient in the Zicam Cold Remedy product line. Many OTC cold remedies contain zinc; however, according to the National Institutes of Health, available data on its effect on the severity or duration of cold symptoms is inconclusive. The ingredients in the Zicam Allergy Relief products are luffa operculata, galphimia glauca, histaminum hydrochloricum and sulphur.

FDA Recall

In 2009, the FDA issued a warning letter regarding zinc-containing nasal Zicam Cold Remedy products. According to the FDA warning, the agency received more than 130 reports of anosmia, or loss of smell, associated with the use of these products. In response, Matrixx Initiatives voluntary recalled these products from shelves. The recall did not affect other zinc-containing Zicam Cold Remedy products.

Dextromethorphan – Considerations for Teens

Dextromethorphan is another active ingredient in Zicam cold and cough products. The FDA first approved dextromethorphan in the 1950s, and it currently is the most widely used cough suppressant in the United States, according to the Consumer Health Products Association. It works by raising the coughing threshold in the brain. While dextromethorphan is not physically addictive, the potential for abuse exists, primarily among teenagers. A report by the National Institute of Drug Abuse in 2009 found that 5 percent of teens had abused cough medicine by consuming large amounts to get high. In spite of this, however, dextromethorphan is considered a safe and effective ingredient and is used in more than 100 OTC cough and cold products.