When Andrea Weinrick, of Lansing, Michigan, buys medicine for her kids, 3-year-old Elissa and 20-month-old Julian, she finds the array of choices for colds, coughs, fevers, allergies, and upset stomach confusing. "I'm never sure which brand I should get, or for what symptoms."
Andrea's predicament isn't unusual: Choosing a medication for your child can be confusing! What's the difference between a generic and a name brand? How do you calculate dosage? What's with all the different active ingredients? And how do you get your kids to actually take it?
Like most parents, you're probably a quick Internet researcher, looking up every ailment that befalls your children. But the information you find might be difficult to sort out, and the credibility of the source might be questionable. Also, like most parents, you may not realize that pharmacists can do more than fill prescriptions -- they can offer advice. "Even if we look busy, we'll take the time to help you select the product that's appropriate for your child," says Winnie Landis, pharmacist and president of the American Pharmacists Association.
Moreover, it's a good idea to build a relationship with a specific pharmacist, rather than hopping around from pharmacy to pharmacy, says Ellen Guthrie, pediatric pharmacist at Children's Healthcare Pediatric Hospital, in Atlanta. "It helps to have somebody who knows, say, whether your child got hyper the last time he took Sudafed," she says. Plus, you can ask your pharmacist to call your doctor if you don't understand how to use a prescribed medicine.
But don't run to the store unprepared. First, recommends Landis, you need to have the following information on hand.
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.
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.
Let's face it: No matter how much you beg and plead with your kids, asking them to take medicine is easier said than done. Here are tips to help you win the battle.
When it comes to medicating my kids, I've learned that less is more. Make your child comfortable, relieving pain if she has any, and let her body fight off the infection. And when you're considering using something else, call the doctor first.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that linked the deaths of three infants to cough and cold medications. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you should always ask your doctor before you give your child decongestants, cough medicines, or expectorants. These medicines may temporarily cause a little relief, "but they could be covering up something more serious or make symptoms last longer," says Daniel Levy, MD, spokesperson for the AAP. Dr. Levy points out that the symptoms these drugs can suppress -- like coughing and mucus production -- are your child's first line of defense in fighting infections; he almost never recommends these medicines for children.
Paula Gardiner, MD, a family medicine physician and research fellow at the Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, offers these suggestions for natural and safe remedies to relieve cough and congestion.
Make a baby-safe version of a steam tent: Put some eucalyptus oil on a washcloth and toss it into the bottom of a hot shower (don't put undiluted essential oils directly onto baby's skin). Take your baby into the bathroom and shut the door. The steam from the shower will loosen mucus, making it easier for her to cough or blow her nose; the menthol from the eucalyptus will soothe her nasal passages and chest.
You can also put a few drops of an essential oil containing menthol, such as eucalyptus or rosemary, in your cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer. Or apply a few drops to a light bulb: the heat will make the vapors diffuse into the air. Vapor rubs can soothe airways, but the active ingredient can be camphor (e.g., Vick's VapoRub), which at certain levels can be toxic for babies. Look for vapor rubs that are labeled as safe for your child's age.
Last, a squirt of saline nose spray is a safe, effective way to shrink nasal passages and help break up mucus so it comes out more easily.
Meagan Francis, mom to four boys, has learned from the trenches the ins and outs of giving medicine.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, March 2007.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.