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Making Sense of OTC Drug Use in Kids

Get answers to questions about OTC drug safety for children.

So how should fever or inflammation be treated in kids?

Acetaminophen is OK in children under 6 months of age. For older children, ibuprofen may also be used. “If there is severe inflammation, stiffness, and pain, such as after your child hurts her knee, ibuprofen may be the better choice,” Tomaka says.

Protect yourself and your family by reading the package labeling very carefully. Shepard says, “Taking too much is the biggest problem. That is why the FDA imposed its new rules.” She also advises steering clear of combination products.”

Shepard also points to the fact that some parents tend to switch off between acetaminophen and ibuprofen when treating a fever. Her advice is to talk with your pediatrician about this to see what he or she thinks.

If you can’t use cold or cough products in young kids, what can you do?

“Children should drink plenty of fluids to clear out their airways,” says Shepard. “Slightly warm liquids are helpful,” she says. “For young babies, put salt water drops in a dropper and squirt them in the nose and suck them out with a bulb to reduce congestion.” Saline nose drops are also available over the counter.

For children older than 1, honey can help soothe a cough. “A small amount of honey such as 1/2 teaspoon to a teaspoon mixed with warm water can soothe a cough before bed,” Shepard says. Honey is not recommended in children younger than one because it can increase the risk of botulism poisoning.

Is it OK to give vitamins or supplements?

It’s not a bad idea to encourage your children to eat foods that are rich in vitamin C or take vitamin C supplements when they have a cold. “This could help resolve symptoms more quickly,” Shepard says. Oranges, broccoli, strawberries, and bell peppers are loaded with vitamin C. Follow dosing instruction on vitamin labels carefully.

There have also been some concerns about the use of intranasal zinc in children. The FDA recently advised consumers -- including kids -- to stop using Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel, Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Swabs, and Zicam Cold Remedy Swabs, Kids Size (a discontinued product) because they are associated with the loss of sense of smell. This can be especially troublesome in kids, who may be less likely to tell you they can’t smell.

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