Doing It Yourself
When your kid wakes up in a coughing fit or with an earache in the early morning and there are no 24-hour pharmacies nearby, what can you do? Here are guidelines to keep in mind before you reach quickly into your medicine cabinet.
- Think twice about using an all-in-one product. It's tempting to pick the bottle that claims to wipe out all symptoms -- after all, giving medicine is usually a struggle, and you want your kid to get some sleep. But what if the congestion clears up the next day while the fever continues? You don't want to risk an overdose; plus, you're suppressing symptoms and won't know if the illness is getting more serious. Also, your pediatrician might not recommend a cold medicine anyway.
- Make sure you have doctor-approved medications available at home. These include infant or children's acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) and ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin). Even so, no medicine should be overused. The FDA has recently proposed putting warning labels on ibuprofen and acetaminophen -- both common ingredients in multipurpose products -- because ibuprofen can cause bleeding in the stomach and intestines and acetaminophen can cause liver toxicity when taken for too long or in too high a dose.
In addition, doctors have long advised parents not to give aspirin (also known as acetylsalicylic acid, a salicylate) to kids and adolescents under age 19 because it's associated with Reye's Syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease. Salicylates are in some Alka-Seltzer products and anti-diarrheals, such as Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol. Children's Pepto Chewable Tablets contain no salicylates and are labeled for kids ages 2 and up, but you should talk to your pediatrician before using it.
- Consider generic medications. Generic drugs have the same active ingredients as their brand-name counterparts. "The only difference between them can be the dyes, flavors, or inactive ingredients," says Landis. It's crucial to know this if your child has allergies or sensitivities to these substances.
- Use sense before you dispense. Again, you need to know your child's current weight to figure out the correct dosage as indicated on the drug's package. Then use a syringe, oral dropper, dosing spoon, or medication cup with the volume clearly marked, instead of a spoon from your silverware drawer. Various brands and types of medications might use different units of measurement -- e.g., teaspoon versus milliliters -- so make sure the correct units are on the syringe, dropper, dosing spoon, or cup.
- Dosing can be very different among formulas and within brands or medication types. For instance, Tylenol infant drops are more concentrated than its suspension formula. Read drug labels every time you use a medicine, so you don't give your child too much. If a label peels off, throw the bottle away.
- Don't combine any medications, including prescribed medicine and even herbal products. They may react with one another, so don't mix unless a doctor or pharmacist has told you otherwise.
- Pick dye-free formulas. You can get some medications, such as Tylenol, Motrin, and the antihistamine Benadryl, without dyes. Although this option is great for kids with allergies to artificial dyes, it also benefits parents who are tired of stain-treating the pink drool on their baby's clothes.