As mamis, we want to do everything we can to help our children get better when they’re sick. But parents should avoid looking for “quick fixes.” Use caution, do research, and ask questions, because certain medicines and remedies can do more harm than good. Here are seven medicines you should never give your children.
Despite the fact that many of us grew up with those little, round, sweet-but-chalky-tasting “baby aspirin,” aspirin is not for babies—and the current recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics also make it clear that it’s not always for kids. Aspirin should never be given to infants, and parents shouldn’t give it to children or teenagers when they have viral illnesses (especially chicken pox or the flu), according to the APA Website. And since we can’t be sure, especially at the beginning of an illness, what’s viral and what’s not, it’s best to stay away from aspirin—and salicylate, aspirin’s active ingredient—altogether. That’s because of the risk of Reye Syndrome, which the APA describes as “a rare but very serious illness” that is “preceded by a viral infection” and “strongly associated with aspirin or aspirin-containing medication during the viral infection.” Note the phrase aspirin-containing—always be sure to check the ingredients on any medication you give your children. If you’re giving medication to an infant, or not sure about the ingredients in any given medicine, be sure to check with your pediatrician.
2. CERTAIN ANTI-NAUSEA/ANTI-DIARRHEAL MEDICINES
Remember we italicized the phrase “aspirin-containing”? That’s because salicylate, the active ingredient in aspirin, can find its way into unlikely places. Take bismuth subsalicylates, for example. That’s an ingredient found in certain anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medicines, including Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, and the more generic name of pink bismuth. If “bismuth subsalicylates” rings a bell, it’s because of that ingredient “salicylate.” While the sweet pink syrup may seem like a natural to give to kids, again, aspirin or aspirin-containing medications can be very dangerous to babies, children, and even teenagers if given during a viral illness. “Bismuth subsalicylates should not be taken if an allergy to salicylates, such as aspirin, is present or to children under 12 years of age,” cautions LiveStrong.com. “It should not be given to anyone under 18 years of age who has chicken pox or the flu.”
3. COUGH AND COLD MEDICINES
Many adults, when sick, are used to reaching for cough and cold medicines like Nyquil. But parents should think again before giving them to their children. Children and infants under the age of two should never be given OTC (over-the-counter) cough and cold medicines, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “because serious and potentially life-threatening side effects can occur.” And for children over the age of two? “We are aware of reports of serious side effects from cough and cold medicines in children 2 years of age and older,” cautions the FDA. Keep in mind, these medicines don’t cure the common cold, nor do they shorten the duration of illnesses. And they should never be used to make your child sleepy. Look to home remedies to help your child feel more comfortable during an illness, like saline drops, a humidifier, fluids, and rest. (The Mayo Clinic Website offers a list of non-medicinal ways to help ease your child’s cold.)
It’s natural, it’s sweet and goes down easy, and it’s usually conveniently located in the kitchen cabinet. And, as we’ve learned, it can be dangerous to give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to our kids. Morever, studies show that a spoonful of good old bee’s honey can work better on a scratchy throat and sleep-disrupting cough than OTC medicines. In fact, the New York Times reported that in a double-blind study, “honey produced the greatest improvements when it came to better sleep and reduced cough frequency and severity.” Sounds like a sweet enough solution—but honey should never be given to children under the age of one year, as it can cause infantile botulism, a rare but serious illness. Botulism via honey might seem like a stretch, but as Kids Health (as well as numerous other health and news organizations) reports, “honey is a known source of the bacteria spores that cause botulism.”
5. SYRUP OF IPECAC
It used to be that parents were told to keep syrup of ipecac (which causes vomiting) on hand in the home in case their children accidentally consumed a poisonous substance. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “there was never any evidence that giving syrup of ipecac to children to make them vomit decreased death rates due to poisoning. It was a practice based on intuition rather than science.” The AAP reveals that “doctors and parents just assumed that vomiting removes poison from a child’s body.” Now that thinking has changed, and it’s backed up by studies: “In the past few years, scientific tests and research have shown vomiting will not help a child who has swallowed a poisonous substance.” In addition, there’s now a substance that has taken the place of ipecac: activated charcoal. “Most emergency rooms have stopped using ipecac in favor of activated charcoal—which binds to poison in the stomach and prevents them from entering the bloodstream,” says the AAP, warning that “continued vomiting caused by syrup of ipecac may later result in the child being unable to tolerate activated charcoal or other poison treatments.” The AAP advises prevention as key to avoiding the accidental consumption of poisonous substances, as well as keeping the number of Poison Control on hand (“the universal number in the U.S. is 1/800-222-1222”) and calling 911 “if a child is having convulsions, stops breathing or loses consciousness.”
…When they’ve been prescribed for someone else, that is. That being said, you should never give your child medicine that’s been prescribed for someone else, even if it’s someone in the household, even a sibling. Now, antibiotics, when they’ve been appropriately prescribed for your child by a pediatrician, can seem to work magic, powerfully fighting bacterial infections such as strep throat. But they’re not for every illness, and deciding on your own to give them to your child can have serious consequences. Antibiotics do not work on viral illnesses such as the common cold; moreover, they can have side effects. If you decide to give your child the antibiotics that were prescribed for his dad or his big sister, you’re exposing him to those side effects when he might not benefit from the use of antibiotics anyway. In addition, a correct dose and a full course of antibiotics is needed to treat an infection, and only a doctor can determine what that dosage and course is, as well as what is appropriate for your child’s age. Giving your child, say, half a course of her sister’s prescription can give bacteria “the chance to linger and make your child sick all over again,” according to What To Expect. “And another bacterial illness could require yet another—potentially stronger—course of antibiotics the second time around.” Some infections can get better without the use of antibiotics. And if all that wasn’t enough, improper use of antibiotics “ups [your child’s] resistance to antibiotics so that she may need a stronger antibiotic the next time she’s sick.” Discuss your child’s needs with your pediatrician—and and don’t be afraid to ask questions to insure that your child will truly benefit from a course of antibiotics.
7. MEDICINE JUST BECAUSE IT “LOOKS SAFE”
Maybe the box has brightly-colored letters, says “for children,” and comes in grape flavor. Maybe the advertisement shows a sick kid being tended to by a concerned parent. But looks can be deceiving, and even dangerous. In an interview with the FDA, Dianne Murphy, M.D., the director of FDA’s Office of Pediatric Therapeutics, explains that if a product “is to be used only for children, then it must be studied in the pediatric population. However, many therapies are developed for adults and then used in children without having been studied in children.” In other words, if a medicine is self-proclaimed safe for children and adults, it may never have been tested on children. “Most medicines intended for children, including many over-the-counter (OTC) products, haven’t been clinically studied in children,” says Murphy. It’s scary, but true. And Rodale, a health-related website, reports that studies have found that “86 percent of the time, parents thought… medicine was OK for a child under 2, even though the product label stated to consult a physician before giving it to a child of that age.” And what influenced their decision? “[Caregivers] reported being influenced by images such as babies, teddy bears, and droppers, words such as “infant” on the package, and statements such as ‘Pediatrician Recommended.’” Ask your pediatrician—and even your pharmacist, if you’re looking for a product at the pharmacy—about the safety as well as the active ingredients in any medication, making sure to make clear the age of your child, any allergies he or she might have, and whether he or she is taking any other medications, OTC or otherwise.