Little Colds cold and cough medicine, among the popular medicines mentioned in an FDA advisory.
Little Colds cold and cough medicine, among the popular medicines mentioned in an FDA advisory. - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: Big drug makers aren't waiting for the future to happen to them -- today they started pulling cold and cough remedies aimed at children under the age of 2 off store shelves. Studies have found some of them can have serious side effects, including fatal ones. And there's no proof they work in young children.

Jeremy Hobson reports from Washington the drug companies are trying to stay a step ahead of the Food and Drug Administration.

JEREMY HOBSON: The FDA is meeting next week. If the agency doesn't ban the infant products altogether, it could decide to change "ask your doctor" label warnings to something more severe.

But Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who is Baltimore's health commissioner, says it's long past time for action. He authored a petition in March, calling on the FDA to do something.

JOSHUA SHARFSTEIN: These products had sort of snuck onto the market without a really serious review of their safety and effectiveness.

Sharfstein applauds the decision by some companies to pull the meds off the shelves -- well-known brands of infant cold and cough remedies like Robitussin, Dimetapp and Tylenol. But he says it's not time for parents to rest easy yet:

SHARFSTEIN: This is a voluntary action by a certain set of manufacturers, so it could be that other manufacturers could come in and just sell it again unless the FDA takes a definitive action.

The trade group, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, maintains that the products are safe and effective when used as directed.
Linda Suydam is the group's president.

LINDA SUYDAM: Most parents use these medicines correctly -- but it's important that all parents can use these products correctly.

For parents of small children, like Erin Murphy of Houston, all this just adds to the confusion.

ERIN MURPHY: I think as a mother it's really frustrating because you don't know if what you're giving them is actually helping them or harming them.

Today's voluntarily recall does not affect medicines for kids older than 2, though there have been concerns on that front as well.

In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

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Follow Jeremy Hobson at @jeremyhobson