Over-the-counter cold medications-postmortem findings in infants and the relationship to cause of death

J Anal Toxicol. 2005 Oct;29(7):738-43. doi: 10.1093/jat/29.7.738.


The Montgomery County Coroner's Office has encountered a series of 10 infant deaths over an 8-month period in infants under 12 months old with toxicology findings that include a variety of drugs commonly found in over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications. The drugs detected were ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine, brompheniramine, ethanol, carbinoxamine, levorphanol, acetaminophen, and the anti-emetic metoclopramide. Toxicology findings were confirmed in 2 different matrices in 9 of the 10 cases and by 2 different analytical methods. The blood concentrations of the drugs and the case histories, as well as the cause of death for each infant, if available, will be given. The majority of these deaths were either toxicity from the OTC cold medications directly or as a contributory factor in the cause of death. Only two of the cases were the result of possible child abuse. Caregivers may be under the mistaken notion that OTC cold medications formulated for children are also safe for use in infants. These cases demonstrate that not only is administration of some OTC cold medications not safe, but use of OTC cold medications in infants can result in toxicity that can lead to death.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Autopsy
  • Cause of Death*
  • Common Cold / drug therapy*
  • Contraindications
  • Coroners and Medical Examiners
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Forensic Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Nonprescription Drugs / metabolism
  • Nonprescription Drugs / toxicity*
  • Ohio


  • Nonprescription Drugs