Dear Pharmacist: I have four kids all in school between kindergarten and eighth grade. We are at the doctor's office all year long. Do you have advice to help parents like me (and other students) who catch whatever is floating around? -- L.Y., Long Island
Great question! Many parents have their hands full with work, commuting and family responsibilities. Having a sick child can throw a snag in an already full schedule. Here are some tips to help you with common conditions that often occur in the fall and winter season. Remember, these are just suggestions, so everything you read here should be discussed with your pediatrician.
Stomach flu: This commonly used term really refers to gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach or intestinal tract caused by food poisoning, a virus, bacteria or contaminated water. Symptoms include cramps, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and/or swollen lymph glands. Dehydration is the scary complication here, so avoid that. If you are able to hold food down, eat bland foods like rice, toast or baby food. My best advice is to drink 100 percent pure coconut water; it contains natural electrolytes that closely match your blood, and it's better than sugar-laden sports drinks in my opinion.
A respiratory infection: This is usually caused by a virus and quite common in the fall. It usually runs its course, causing a nasty cough, fever, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea and exhaustion. In the pharmacy, Dimetapp, Triaminic and PediaCare are all popular medications for symptomatic relief in children. In the health food store, you could look for elderberry extract, Hyland's Homeopathic Belladona Extract or Boiron's Oscillococcinum. The big problem with a respiratory infection is that it can trigger an asthma attack. Do not ignore breathing issues for they can be fatal; you may need to get a prescription inhalant from your physician, something such as albuterol. Two inhalers are a good idea, send one with your child (or the school nurse) and keep the other at home. The pharmacist should put a complete label with directions on both containers.
Sore throat: Use zinc lozenges. This pain-relieving mineral does double duty by blocking viral cell reproduction. Though studies conflict, one trial conducted at the Cleveland Clinic in 1996 found that people who took zinc lozenges throughout the day felt relief from their colds in fewer than five 5 days, compared with the nontreated group, which suffered for almost eight days. Lozenges are better than tablets and/or capsules for a sore or tickly throat. For kids, I would stick to dosages on the label; don't take any extra.
Head lice: The pharmacy fix is Nix or Rid insecticide all-in-one kits. An alternative to these chemicals include Zero Lice, by Thursday Plantation, which contains natural ingredients such as tea tree oil, ylang ylang, citronella and eucalyptus. Nit removal is most important, so take your time.