The ABCs of over-the-counter medication

Just because drugs are sold over-the-counter doesn’t mean that they are harmless. Here’s a little guide to help you heal your child safely this flu season.

If pharmacists give us access to non-prescription drugs, it is not because all these medications are safe but because pharmacists believe that we have enough judgment to use OTC drugs properly. Here’s a little information to make good use of their trust and avoid mistakes that could have serious consequences.

Cough, congestion and sore throat

If your child gets a cold or flu, there are very few products that can relieve them. Before the age of 6, it is not recommended to give the following products:

  • Cough and cold medication
  • Expectorants
  • Oral decongestants (Actifed, Advil cold and sinus, Benylin cold and flu, etc.)
  • Essential oils
  • Camphor

However, you can give a bit of honey to soothe your child's cough and sore throat. Studies have shown its effectiveness, and its good taste is a plus. Just avoid giving it to a child less than a year-old because of the risk of infant botulism.

You can also use saline water solutions safely. In fact, these solutions are the best way to decongest your child’s airways. You can find it bottled at the pharmacy or make your own by mixing 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of cooled boiled water.

Pain and fever

A fever must be controlled when it skyrockets to avoid convulsions, especially in young children. To control it, acetaminophen is the best option. There are several brands (Tempra, Tylenol, generic brands, etc.) that offer the same drugs in different forms.

For example, Tylenol offers, among others:

  • Drops for infants between 0-23 months (up to 23 lbs.);
  • Children’s liquid for children aged 2 to 11 years old and
  • Chewable tablets for children between 2 and 11 years old.

As your child grows, it will become more convenient to use chewable tablets than to give big amounts of liquid to a sick and fussy child.

If the acetaminophen is not working, or if you need anti-inflammatory medicine - to soothe your child’s gums, for example - you can use ibuprofen. It can be combined with acetaminophen if you follow the dosage but cannot be used by children under six months old unless advised by a doctor.

This medicine can cause stomach irritation. Always give ibuprofen with a snack or milk. There are several brands of ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, generic brands, etc.) and three concentrations of ibuprofen for children. It is best to rely on your child's weight rather than their age to determine the dosage.

Rubbing alcohol should never be used to reduce fever.

Digestive disorders

If your child vomits or has diarrhea, buy rehydration formulas like Pedialyte. You can buy it in liquid form or as frozen bars. If you choose the liquid, note that most children will prefer it cold because of its peculiar salty taste.

To prevent abuse, pharmacists now keep Gravol behind the counter. It doesn’t mean that you need prescriptions to buy it, but you must provide some information to give it to your nauseous or vomiting child.

Other anti-nausea, antidiarrheal and laxative drugs should only be given to children when recommended by a doctor.

Dry skin and diaper rash

Zinc oxide is a safe solution to diaper rash. Some creams also contain cod-liver oil; it’s up to you to choose the one that works best for your child. Some creams will work on one rash but not on the other, some will also become less effective over time. If that happens, try another brand.

For your child’s dry skin, choose an unscented moisturizer. Glaxal Base, for example, is a very effective and unscented moisturizer.

Finally, if your child suffers from eczema, you can use a hydrocortisone cream 0,5 %, but talk to your doctor if the condition worsens.

Allergies and insects

To prevent food allergies, especially if there are severe cases in your family, you should always keep a bottle of liquid Benadryl for children on hand. If a severe allergy is confirmed in your child, consult your doctor who will prescribe the appropriate medication or provide an EpiPen.

If a mosquito stings your child, you can apply calamine or any antihistamine cream to relieve him or her.

Teeth and gums

Analgesics such as Orajel should not be used to relieve teething babies. It could numb their tongue, make swallowing difficult and harden their gums, making the teething more difficult.

Ask questions

Other drugs must be recommended by a doctor before use. You should also keep in mind that public recommendations change regularly. Not so long ago, Gravol was available to all and it was believed that cough syrups were good for children. That’s why even if your child has a mild fever, coughs or has a rash and even if the waiting rooms are crowded, you should not rely on hearsay or on your memories. Ask your pharmacist or call your doctor before giving any OTC drug. It is the best way to avoid mistakes.

Image de Anne Costisella

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