Recently parents have been asking me for a good dose of information about over-the-counter cold medicines. So let me prescribe some advice to avoid common errors that can occur when giving over-the-counter medicines to children.

Over the Counter Medicines: What Parents Need to Know

First, know that medicines come in different strengths and preparations depending on whether it is for infants or older children.

Be sure to use the measuring device that comes with the medicine rather than a regular kitchen spoon. A spoon will not provide the correct dosage, resulting in too little or too much medicine given to your child.

For example, infant medicines may be concentrated because you will use a dropper for each dose. Whereas children’s medicines are diluted so you can use a measuring spoon. If you give the children’s medicine to a baby in a dropper, you may give them too little to be effective. Giving the infant medicine to a child using a spoon may result in too high a dose or concentration.

For colds, avoid a nasal decongestant at night since common side effects are agitation and inability to sleep. Avoid using these medications in children under 4 years old, as more serious side effects can occur. Salt water or saline nose drops or a humidifier will do just as well to allow better breathing at night.

For diarrhea, don’t use over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines in children. These medications can slow down the diarrhea, preventing germs and toxins from leaving your child’s body, making the problem worse. Instead, treat the diarrhea with an oral rehydrating solution and a bland diet of bananas, rice and toast.

Give over-the-counter medicines only when necessary.

Often, sore throats, runny noses or coughs will clear up with tincture of time. Also, do not continue to use over-the-counter medicines if your child is not improving. Instead, speak to your child’s health care professional to see if a visit is in order. They can diagnose your child and decide whether your child could benefit from a prescription medication, such as an antibiotic.

Hopefully, tips like these will not be hard pills to swallow when using over-the counter medications with your child.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives atwww.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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