Aside from the odd case of Munchausen by proxy syndrome (MBPS), no parent intentionally gives their child medicine that does more harm than good. Unfortunately, even the best of intentions can go awry and medicines which we assume to be safe turn out to be among the most dangerous of all. Parents of small children know to be vigilant about what they give their babies to ease illness, but sometimes we all need a reminder.
• Codeine is a pain reliever found in a lot of over the counter (OTC) and prescription medicines. It’s also used to treat coughs, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and, occasionally, narcolepsy. It’s habit forming and is often used by teenagers as a recreational drug. It’s inadvisable to give any medicine with codeine in it to children under the age of two and to use extreme caution when administering it to children under the age of six. In certain instances, doctors may recommend codeine for young children, in which case you should pay strict attention to the dosages and instructions. Side-effects to watch out for include excessive sleeping, listlessness, trouble breathing and unresponsiveness.
• Aspirin, which is commonly used to treat pain and fever, can cause stomach complaints, such as ulcers, in adults, so imagine what it can do to young children. More worrying, perhaps, is aspirin’s link to Reye’s syndrome, a neurological disorder which often proves fatal in children younger than sixteen. Aspirin is a salicylate, and salicylates can be found in a number of OTC drugs, topical products and natural herbal preparations. The salicylates you really want to watch out for are acetylsalicylate, salicylic acid, white willow bark and acetylsalicylic acid.
• Cold and cough medicines, which one would think would be the most innocuous, are particularly dangerous. Doctors, and even pharmaceutical companies, recommend that you never give children younger than two any OTC cough and cold medicine unless prescribed by a physician. Some medical experts extend the age limit to six or even eleven-year olds. As with codeine, instructions need to be followed very carefully to avoid drug-drug interactions (when different medicines react to each other) and drug overlap (when different medicines contain some of the same ingredients). Side-effects to look out for include sedation in children with breathing difficulties, accidental overdose (drug overlap), excessive drowsiness and unsteadiness.
Other tips when treating childhood illnesses are fairly obvious but bear repeating:
• Avoid adult medication. Adult medicines are made to different concentrations and may contain different ingredients than medicines for children, even if they’re essentially the same brand. Giving children half or quarter doses will not necessarily mitigate the stronger effects of these medicines and even when you’re desperate rather pop in to an all night pharmacy or clinic, or even the emergency room to get proper treatment.
• Even medicine is a “little” bit expired, don’t give it to your kids. You might take chances with yoghurt and cut off the green bits on cheese but one thing you don’t want to do is extend the life of your child’s medication when you clearly shouldn’t. The risk just isn’t worth it.
• Moms need to be aware of the medication they take while breastfeeding. Most medicine will wind up in the breast milk and will be transferred to the baby. If chronic medication is required, as might be the case in depression, heart disease or cancer, moms need to ensure that their doctors have prescribed something appropriate.