Cold and flu season brings sleepless nights consoling sick, coughing kids. But as you reach for relief inside the medicine cabinet, take care to give the right medicine at the right dose. Research reveals that many are lax when it comes to following dosing instructions on over the counter medication. In a recent study of about 1,400 parents of children ages 4 to 6, nearly 1 in 3 parents did not believe over the counter medicine was strong enough to require precise dosing. (It is.) And nearly 1 in 5 parents said they believed using a household spoon is OK for measuring medicines. (It is not)
The side effects of too much medicine can vary, but often the side effects intensify the very symptoms of the illness itself, for example sleepiness or lethargy.
It is essential, especially when giving kids medicine, to be precise in measuring the dose. Unfortunately most OTC medication dose not offer dosing guidelines for children under 2, and they are the most susceptible to overdose side effects. So before given the littlest kids medicine, make sure to check with your pediatrician.
To generally avoid problems, here are some tips recently reported by NPR:
- No kitchen spoons. Household spoons are for soup, not medication. The household spoon can come in all shapes and sizes and is NOT an accurate dosing device for medicine, caution pediatricians. Always use the dosing device that comes with the medication or, as explained below, as the pharmacist for a syringe, the gold standard in dose measurement.
- Read the label. Often instructions will recommend doses based on age and weight. Go with the weight, say experts, it's more accurate.
- Store medication "up and away" from the child. This is especially key during the middle of the night, when a parent might be tempted to leave medicine on a countertop for ease and convenience.
- Don't mix meds. Carefully read the ingredient list on the label to make sure you're not accidentally doubling a dose. Experts caution that parents should never give more than one medicine that includes the same active ingredient. For example, acetaminophen (one brand name is Tylenol) can be helpful for easing pain and reducing fever but is also an ingredient in combination medications that are marketed to control a range of cold symptoms. The American Academy of Pediatrics actively discourages the use of over-the-counter cold medicine in children under age 4.
- Ask for a syringe. A syringe is more accurate than a plastic dosing cup and should be considered the gold standard for measurement, though cups are more often included with over-the-counter products. And, according to a recent government study, the odds of making an error are four times greater when using a cup. If the medicine doesn't come with a syringe, ask your pharmacist for one.
- Think twice about cough syrup. No over-the-counter cough syrups have been shown to effectively suppress cough. And medicines containing codeine or other opiates can have serious side effects; the Food and Drug Administration discourages their use in children and teens. For children who are at least 12 months old, you might instead try a spoonful of honey to ease a cough. Anecedotal reports from pediatricians found honey useful in suppressing the nighttime cough of a cold observed kids ages 2 years old to 18 years old.