By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The go-to treatment for coughs has been medications that contain codeine, however federal health officials have updated guidelines for children saying, the risks of the drug outweigh any benefits.

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The FDA will now require prescription drugs containing codeine to carry a warning label against using them in children under the age of 18 and also in women who are breastfeeding.

“We know that medicines like codeine fall into the family of what we call opiates, which can cause problems with, principally breathing but can also change how alert you are,” Dr. Eva Love, a pediatrician, explained.

Common side effects of opioids include headache, dizziness and vomiting, and more seriously, breathing difficulties and even death.

Doctors say codeine has traditionally been used to suppress the cough reflex but that actually serves as a protective mechanism.

“While it could be very concerning to a parent that their child is chronically coughing from a viral illness, we know that its important for them to use that reflex to cough in order to protect their airway,” Dr. Love said. “So, by giving a medicine like codeine, you’re actually suppressing the body’s ability to protect itself.”

Doctors say a cough caused by a cold or upper respiratory infection typically does not require treatment in most children.

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The new recommendation also says that because codeine is an opioid, it carries the risks of misuse, abuse addiction and overdose.

The FDA says its especially concerned about unnecessary exposure to opioids, especially in young children. Early exposure can lead to future addiction, which can actually happen at any time

The FDA is also requiring manufacturers to add new safety warnings on medications with codeine and hydrocodone for adults, including an expanded box warning, the most prominent kind.

Health officials are making a big push to avoid prescribing opioid-type medication as much as possible.

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