Health Mart Pharmacist Column



Itís high season for coughs, colds, earaches and headaches. When your child is suffering from pain or illness of any kind, you want to do what you can to bring relief. You can handle many common illnesses or aches and pains with a trip to the pharmacy. But always remember that serious problems or illnesses that last more than a week require a call to your childís doctor. Here are simple guidelines you can use the next time your child is feeling a little under the weather.

First, itís important to remember that children are not equivalent to small adults. Some special precautions apply. First and foremost, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that you never give any over-the-counter (OTC) medication to children two years and under without a doctorís guidance. Also, do not give aspirin to a child under the age of 12 without a doctorís approval. Thatís because, in children, aspirin can lead to Reyeís syndrome, a potentially fatal illness.

A safe alternative to aspirin is acetaminophen, sold most often under the brand name Tylenol. It relieves pain and reduces fever as effectively as aspirin. However, when pain is the result of inflammation from injury, for example, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, or others) is a better choice.

Be sure to follow package instructions carefully, and understand that formulations vary in strength; some are available in baby and junior strengths. Stay alert for any problems. Know that ibuprofen can cause serious conditions, marked by skin rashes. And be aware that early symptoms of acetaminophen overdose can mimic those of the flu, which might lead you to give extra doses, inadvertently causing even more toxicity.

As for the ubiquitous winter colds and flu, is it best to treat them or leave them alone? It depends. Think of a cough as the bodyís way of clearing mucus from the throat and bronchial tubes. If needed, use OTC cough medicines at nighttime or to temporarily reduce discomfort. Consult a doctor or pharmacist for the best preparation for your childís condition.

Decongestants ó sold as tablets, liquids, nose drops, or nose sprays ó can help relieve stuffy noses or clogged ears. Limit their use in children to no more than five to seven days. Longer usage may result in permanent damage to the mucous membranes. Also, limit use of sprays to avoid a "rebound effect," severe swelling in membranes that may occur once the effect of the decongestant wears off. This overuse of sprays may then cause nose and ears to become even more clogged.

Donít give medications to treat diarrhea in your child. Itís best to give clear liquids, avoid dairy products, and decrease solid foods for the first 24 hours. If this doesnít do the trick, consult your childís doctor. Never give laxatives or enemas unless a doctor has prescribed them. On the other hand, if constipation is the problem, add bran, fiber, and juices to your childís diet. An apple a day? Well, that may be one more reason why itís still a great piece of advice.