In October of 2007, government health experts were so worried about side-effects from children’s over-the-counter cold medications that they recommended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban them. Manufacturers pulled the medicines from store shelves – but only those for kids under age 2.
In May whole aisles in drugstores emptied out following a recall of 43 over-the-counter children’s medicines by pharmaceutical giant McNeil Consumer Healthcare, makers of Tylenol, Motrin, Zyrtec and Benadryl, due to quality-control problems at their manufacturing plant. And in September, the FDA considered limiting access to cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan (DM) because some teens and tweens use them to get high.
Now it’s cold and flu season. What if your child gets sick?
Doctors do say that children’s Tylenol and Advil are both safe when you give the right dose — and they work. And there are natural alternatives to cough medications, like the honey-based Zarbee’s (read about it here). You can also skip OTC meds and use the old-school methods our grandmas used.
The Right OTC Choice
If your kids are older than 6 and you are going to reach for an OTC remedy, here are a few guidelines from the experts.
• Stick with single-ingredient medications. Purchase separate medications for fever, cough, and congestion, rather than a combination product designed to work on multiple symptoms. Parents often overdose their children when giving these combo medications, because they aren’t aware of all the active ingredients.
• Generics work fine – if your child will take them. While the active ingredients will be the same, generics often have a different taste, texture or color than the brand names. “Know the flavors that your kid likes,” advises Michigan pediatrician Matt Davis, M.D., director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health and father of a third grader and an eighth grader.
• Ask your doctor about the proper dose. “These medicines are all weight based, not age based,” Davis says. A pediatrician can give you the correct dose for your child’s weight, which will be more accurate than the package recommendation.
• Use the measuring device that was packaged with the medication. This helps make sure you’re giving the correct dose.
• Follow package directions. Never use adult medications, or medications meant for older children, on your young child.
These measures can help you avoid side effects, which can range from simple sleepiness with decongestants and cough medicines, to nausea, elevated blood pressure and heart palpitations. Even with trusted medications like Tylenol, children have suffered severe liver damage, or even died, from overdose.
But, Of Course …
If your child does get sick, you now have some strategies at the ready. But if these don’t seem to be working – if your child has trouble breathing, isn’t sleeping, has high fever that won’t come down – of if you just don’t feel your child is getting better the way she should, the best strategy of all is to see your doctor.