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Use right dose to treat colds

The best tip to keep your children healthy as a new year ushers in the height of flu season: Remind them to keep their hands clean and away from their faces.

Hand-washing is the most effective way to stay healthy in the winter when viruses are traveling around, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teach your children to wash their hands often with warm, soapy water to help remove the viruses and bacteria they may have collected.

Parents and teachers, also remind kids to cough or sneeze into their elbows, not into their hands. Grubby hands are germ spreaders when they touch noses, eyes and mouths.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. The flu and a cold can be tough to tell apart, especially since fever is not always present with the flu. If you or your child is sick with flulike illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone (without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).

If you're in a drugstore scoping out a fever-reducing medication for your child, the choices are daunting, but vital to get right. Sold under brand names like Tylenol, acetaminophen is commonly used to reduce fever and relieve pain. But like any drug, it can be dangerous in the wrong amounts.

"Improper dosing is one of the biggest problems in giving acetaminophen to children," says Dr. Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of New Drugs.

Confusion about dosing is partly caused by the availability of different formulas, strengths and dosage instructions for different ages of children, Kweder says.

For example, infants' liquid acetaminophen in concentrated drops must be used only for infants. Don't assume you can use the dropper for your baby and put the same drops in a teaspoon for your older child -- this could be a dangerous mistake, Kweder says. The use of concentrated drops in much larger amounts, as would be given with a teaspoon, can cause fatal overdoses.

Other tips from the FDA about giving acetaminophen to children:

*To relieve multiple symptoms, acetaminophen is often combined with other ingredients in products such as cough and cold medicines. Read labels carefully, and never give your child more than one medicine containing acetaminophen at a time.

*Choose the correct over-the-counter medicine based on your child's weight and age. The directions on the Drug Facts label tell you if the medicine is right for your child and how much to give. If a dose for your child's weight or age is not listed on the label or you can't tell how much to give, ask your pharmacist or doctor what to do.

*Never give more of an acetaminophen-containing medicine than directed.

*If the medicine is a liquid, use the measuring tool that comes with the medicine, not a kitchen spoon.

Also, the FDA doesn't support the use of over-the-counter oral cough and cold medications for young children. Studies have shown that for children under age 6, the cold medications don't work and may have side effects. Part of the problem with cold medications has been that parents give the wrong dosage or more than one medicine with overlapping ingredients, the FDA has found.