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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Cold season's a snap with right ingredients

Cold season's a snap with right ingredients

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sat, Dec. 27, 2003
By Dr. Diana Mahar

Let's face it: When your child has a cold, going to the drug store can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of different cold medicines for children. Should you buy "Cough and Cold" or "Cold and Flu"?

Follow these tips to make sure you get what you're looking for:

  • Know your ingredients. There are a limited number of medications in over-the-counter cold remedies. By knowing their chemical names, you can pick out what you need by looking for the generic (chemical names); buying generics will give you the same medication for less money. Remember that you should never give aspirin to children, as it may increase the risk of a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
  • Know medication side effects. All medications have side effects. Knowing the common ones can help you prevent problems (such as giving your child a medicine that causes insomnia right before bedtime) and help you identify those side effects early on.
  • Read the labels: Look on the back of the bottle for the chemical ingredients written in small print.

Here's a list you can take to the store with you to help you select the right medicine for your child's symptoms:

  • Brompheniramine or chlorpheniramine (used for stuffy nose and allergies)
    Side effects: drowsiness, headache, dry mouth and nausea
  • Dextromethorphan (used as a cough suppressant)
    Side effects: drowsiness, dizziness and nausea
  • Diphenhydramine (used for stuffy nose and allergies)
    Side effects: sleepiness, dizziness
  • Guaifenesin (used to make mucus more slippery and easier to cough up)
    Side effects: drowsiness, headache, rash, vomiting
  • Pseudoephedrine (used for stuffy nose and allergies)
    Side effects: insomnia, anxiety
  • Ibuprofen (treats pain and fever only)
    Side effects: abdominal pain, constipation (intestinal bleeding if taken in excess)
  • Acetaminophen (treats pain and fever only)
    Side effects: nausea, hives, rash (liver damage if taken in excess)

Know that despite all the advertisements, cold remedies won't cure your cold. Remember that these medications are intended to help cold symptoms, not help the cold to go away faster. Since colds are caused by viral infections, the only real "treatment" is time - waiting for the body to clear the infection by itself. If you can cope with the symptoms, you can avoid wasting a lot of money on cold remedies.

Beware of overdosing. Read the instructions carefully, especially if you are giving medicine to young children. Remember that one teaspoon equals 5 milliliters; it is best to get a liquid measure or syringe, as household teaspoons vary in size.

Know when to see your doctor. A simple cold with runny nose, mild sore throat, mild fever and coughing usually does not require a doctor visit. But consider making an appointment to see your doctor if your child: has a temperature greater than 101.5 degrees lasting more than three days; breathing problems; is unable (or unwilling) to drink liquids; or has cold symptoms that last more than two weeks without signs of improvement.

And remember: Prevention is the best medicine. Your best prevention against colds and flu is good hand-washing and getting a flu shot. Flu shots are indicated for any child 6 months of age or older, but are especially important for children with asthma or any chronic illness. And contrary to common belief, flu shots do not cause the flu.

Dr. Diana Mahar practices general pediatrics at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center and outlying clinics.

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