The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday warned parents and pediatricians about the dangers of swallowing over-the-counter eyedrops and nasal decongestants by children age 5 and younger. The agency cited 96 cases of serious illness resulting from accidental swallowing of the products, with 53 hospitalizations. There were, fortunately, no deaths.
The eyedrops, which are sold under a wide variety of brand and generic names -- including Visine, Opcon-A, Naphcon, Afrin, Dristan, Mucinex and Sudafed -- contain either tetrahydrozoline, oxymetazoline of naphazoline. In the eyes, these products work by narrowing blood vessels to relieve redness due to minor eye irritations. In the nose, they narrow blood vessels to relieve nasal congestion due to the common cold, hay fever and allergies. When used as directed, they are very safe.
But when the products are ingested by young children, even at levels as small as 1 or 2 milliliters (5 milliliters are in a teaspoon) they can cause serious or even life-threatening side effects. Among the events that resulted in hospitalization of children were coma, decreased heart rate, decreased breathing and excessive sleepiness.
Most of these products currently do not come in child-resistant packaging, but this year the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission proposed requiring such packaging on all such products.