What you should know about some commonly used medicines:
1. Fever/ Pain medicines:
a) Paracetamol (Acetaminophen) is a common fever and pain medicine. It is available in different preparations such as infant drops, syrup, suspension, suppository and tablet. These preparations are of different strengths. Make sure which preparation you are using and also confirm its correct dose with your doctor. Paracetamol overdose can cause serious liver and kidney problems and needs specialised treatment.
b) Ibuprofen is another popular fever and pain medicine, which can sometimes cause stomach upsets (including ulcers and bleeding) and trigger asthma attacks.
c) Aspirin should not be given to children as it can cause a serious liver problem called Reye’s Syndrome.
2. OTC Cough and Cold medicines are usually useless, needless and potentially harmful to children below the age of 2 years. Even in older patients, they do not shorten the duration of the colds. They just mask symptoms without curing the actual illness. Their accidental overdose creates a confusing picture because there are multiple components in them, each with its effects and side-effects.
What to do instead in case of cold/cough?: Increase the fluid intake of the child, clear the nose with saline nasal drops and dispense a simple paracetamol to treat these routine colds. Simple herbal concoctions have been found to be as effective as any OTC cough syrups and they are much safer also.
3. Allergy medications: Are of two types- sedative and non-sedative. The first type may cause some sleepiness and needs multiple doses per day to remain effective. The second type usually needs a single dose, which remains effective for a whole day and it usually doesn’t make the patient sleepy.
4. Medicines for diarrhoea: These are needless in most cases. A popular diarrhoea-medicine combines two chemicals – Kaolin and Pectin, both of which can easily be given through food items such as Burnt toast (Kaolin) and semi-ripe fruits (Pectin).
Powder-sachets of helpful bacteria (Lactobacilli) are often prescribed in diarrhoea, but giving plain yoghurt in food serves the same purpose.
Most of the diarrhoea cases are caused by viral infections and they just need dietary adjustment, fluid replacement and a little bit of patience.
5. Medicines for Constipation: These come as syrups, suppositories or enemas. These laxatives are only to be used in short-term relief of severe constipation and should be avoided for long-term use as they can cause electrolyte and mineral imbalance in body. Most cases of constipation are because of faulty bowel habits and they need to be treated through fiber-rich diet, increased fluid intake, exercise and establishment of good toilet habits.
6. Medicines for aAthma: Are given as syrups, chewable tablets, inhalers and nebulizers. People are often needlessly worried about using inhalers and nebulizers; but in reality, they are more effective and much safer than oral bronchodilator medicines. Overdose of oral bronchodilators can cause tremors and fast or irregular heartbeats. While using inhalers in children, a special apparatus called spacer is used along with a mask. This method ensures that the child inhales the proper dose of medicine.
7. Multi-Vitamins and Mineral Supplements: These are often given in the hope they would increase the appetite or make the child more energetic. They do not do either.
8. Homeopathic Medicines are by themselves safe to use. The only danger is when the parents switch to homeopathy and suddenly stop allopathic medicines in conditions such as asthma or diabetes. This many times leads to unnecessary serious complications.
9. Herbal Medicines are popular because they claim no side-effects. But that is a myth.
When herbs are made into marketable medicines then they have active chemical ingredients, which can have side-effects similar to any other medicine.