codeine for banner FORMATTED-MD002363.jpg

Codeine and Children Under 12 Don’t Mix

Written by Paula Schlesinger, M.D., F.A.A.P. on Apr 14, 2018, 8:45:00 AM

Medicine and the way we interact with it is always changing. Prescriptions that were once given without a thought to almost all patients have since been discontinued or limited to certain segments of the population. This is the case with codeine, a powerful cough medicine and pain reliever. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration looked at the practice of prescribing codeine to children and determined this particular medication shouldn’t be given to kids younger than 12 – for good reason.   

How Codeine Works

Almost ironically, the danger of codeine comes, in part, with its effectiveness. Codeine is a narcotic pain reliever that targets the cough center in the brain, and also binds to pain receptors in the body, decreasing the amount of pain a patient feels. It is often a highly effective drug – it stops coughing and alleviates pain – but has been proven to come with some serious side effects, ranging from addiction to death. Because of the way that codeine works inside your body, by targeting the part of your brain that controls respiratory function, this powerful medication can also cause respiratory depression, which can lead to death. These cases are more prevalent in certain sections of the population. 

FDA Recommendations

codeine FDA-679546546

Research conducted by the Food and Drug Administration found that of the patients who experienced respiratory failure due to codeine use, the largest percentage of the population affected were children younger than 12. Because of these findings, the FDA no longer supports prescribing codeine to children younger than 12. But children aren’t the only ones the FDA restricts from the drug. Because codeine is classified as an opioid and currently there’s a serious opioid epidemic in the United States, there are even restrictions on its use for people older than 12 as it can be a highly addictive medication. 

Other Options Available 

Depending on the severity of their illness, over-the-counter cough suppressants, fever reducers, and pain medications are often enough to help your child get through a cold. Talk to your physician to find out what they recommend for your child when it comes to over-the-counter medication, and be sure to follow dosage requirements. Recent studies have found that more than 80 percent of parents give their child incorrect dosages of liquid medication. To avoid this, either choose medication in pill form, or administer doses of liquid medication in oral injections, rather than dosage cups or teaspoons. If you have any questions about the medication recommended for your child, consult your physician; if you are not satisfied, remember that it’s always OK to get a second opinion.



Dr. Paula Schlesinger is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Tanglewood Clinic near the Galleria. Her clinical interests include developmental and behavioral issues, diagnostic dilemmas, and nutrition.


Topics: codeine, respiratory failure, FDA, opioid, cough medicine

AppointmentsNOW Schedule your next Family Medicine, Internal Medicine or Pediatrics appointment online.

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all