Parent & Child: Why did the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issue new recommendations about cough and cold medications for kids?
Miriam Schechter: The FDA determined that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children younger than 2 for two reasons: One, there have never been good studies showing that these medications work in kids. The other issue is safety. The dosage instructions were never clear, so parents often mistakenly overdosed their children. Also, serious side effects including sleeplessness and high blood pressure were reported.
P&C: What do you suggest, then, to help alleviate cold symptoms?
Schechter: A vaporizer in the room at night can help ease symptoms. It puts moisture in the air, which prevents the secretions in the nose from drying and stuffing up nasal passages. Nasal saline drops are also good for softening mucous and making it easier to remove. Since babies can’t blow their noses, these drops are helpful, as are bulb syringes for extracting mucous.
P&C: Do you recommend the flu vaccine?
Schechter: Absolutely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that kids ages 6 months to 18 years get the vaccine. That’s a change from earlier, when only children 6 months to 5 years were included. Vaccination is important because young children are at high risk for flu complications and also tend to be the source of infection for their families and the elderly.
P&C: Some parents are worried about the flu shot’s safety. Should they be?
Schechter: Unless you’re allergic to eggs (which are used in the shot’s preparation), you should have nothing to worry about. Despite what you may have heard, the mercury preservative — called thimerosal — in some flu vaccines has never been proven to have a negative effect on children. (If you’re still concerned, there are flu vaccines without thimerosal.)
P&C: What can parents do to help their kids prevent colds, flu, and other illnesses?
Schechter: Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing. Or use sanitizing gels. Kids get sick from other kids. Have your child wash his hands and try to keep them out of his mouth, nose, and eyes, since that’s where germs enter the body.