A number of infant cold and cough remedies have been pulled off the market following a government warning that they could be risky. So what does a parent with a sick baby do now in the absence of the withdrawn medications? Dr. Emily Senay has some answers and alternatives.
Q: If a very small child has a cough or a cold, how should the illness be treated?
A: "Infants and toddlers might actually be better off now, because they won't be getting medicines that many experts agree just were not effective for their age group," says Senay. And that's aside from the risk to life and health that resulted from overdoses. As the American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us, most colds go away on their own. Giving your child plenty of fluids and making sure he or she gets lots of rest and is as comfortable as possible is as good a treatment as there is.
Q: How do we make a child comfortable?
A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends some very simple measures like clearing nasal congestion with a rubber suction bulb or softening secretions with saline nose drops or a cool-air humidifier. If your child is coughing, in most cases that's OK, Senay says. Let it happen. Coughing is the way the body clears mucous that has traveled down the respiratory tract toward the lungs. If you suppress the coughing, the mucous may actually stay down there far longer than it needs to.
Q: When do you know these measures may not be enough, and you need to call the doctor?
A: If your child is 3 months or younger, don't wait at all. Senay says call the doctor at the first sign of illness. But for kids older than 3 months, the American Academy of Pediatrics says call the doctor if the child's nostrils flare out with every breath, because that's a sign the congestion is especially severe. If the child's fever is over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, that's a sign you should call. Also if lips or nails start turning blue, or the child is excessively sleepy or cranky. A pain in the ear is another reason to call. Or call the doctor if symptoms just don't go away. If a cough lasts a week or more, or nasal mucous last more than 10 days to two weeks, call the doctor.
Q: Are all infant cough and cold products disappearing from store shelves?
A: "It depends on the store," says Senay. The CVS chain says it's blocking its cash registers from ringing up sales if customers happen to find some in the store. Others say they're clearing shelves with all deliberate speed, and chains including Rite-Aid and CVS say they're offering refunds for the infant product is already purchased.
Q: So if these infant products are in your house, you should return them or throw them out?
A: "That's right. They should no longer be used," says Senay. "They do your child no good, and could even be harmful. Forget the medicines and try the other methods we've mentioned."