Over-the-counter cough and cold medications to alleviate cold symptoms in young children are being largely withdrawn from pharmacy shelves. This is because of unintentional misuse or overdose of these medications causing harm and, rarely, death, especially in children younger than 2.
These medications are frequently used in good faith, even though there is no scientific proof that these drugs are actually effective. This is a case in which the risks outweigh the benefits.
Health care providers are now asked not to advise the use of such drugs for children younger than 6. Some of the most common are PediaCare, Triaminic and Dimetapp.
I know this may sound discouraging when caring for a sick child, but there are useful non-drug treatments for cold and cough symptoms. Try the following, for example:
• Encourage the drinking of fluids to prevent dehydration and to help thin out mucus. Contrary to popular opinion, milk has not been proven to increase mucus formation.
• Control high fever or pain with either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), giving doses once every six hours.
• Saline irrigation can be helpful for a congested or drippy nose. For infants, use rubber bulb suction to remove nasal secretions after applying saline nose drops or spray, or try sinus rinsing for older children.
• Use a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in the child’s room. To prevent contamination, the water inside should be replaced daily and the machine should be cleansed regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. If possible, maintain indoor relative humidity between 40 percent and 50 percent.
• If a medication such as Tylenol or Advil is given, I do not advise the use of household kitchen spoons to measure doses of medication. Measuring devices that use units of milliliters (mLs,) usually are packaged with the medicine or can be obtained from a pharmacist.
• Honey can relieve coughs by increasing saliva, which coats the throat and relieves irritation. Suggested doses are half a teaspoon for children between 1 and 5 years, one teaspoon for children 6 to 11 years, and two teaspoons for children 12 and older. Do not give honey to a child younger than 1.
Sometimes, a visit to a doctor is called for. See your health care provider immediately for the following cases:
• A child younger than 2 months of age with any fever
• A child younger than 2 years of age with a fever lasting more than two or three days
• A child who complains of an earache or a severe sore throat
• Thick green nasal discharge that continues for more than seven to 10 days
• Mild symptoms that do not improve after 10 to 14 days
• A child who seems very ill to you
By the way, for children who have appropriately been prescribed antibiotics, I am frequently asked whether the drug needs to be refrigerated.
The two most commonly prescribed antibiotics — amoxicillin, which tastes like bubble gum or occasionally is fruit-flavored, and azithromycin (Zithromax), which has a cherry/vanilla/banana taste — can be kept at room temperature for up to 10 days. Refrigeration may improve the taste, but it isn’t needed to maintain potency.