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Daily Dose

Cough and Cold Medicine

1:30 to read

My husband has a cold (I have been fortunate not to have one) and he decided he needed some over the counter (OTC) “cold medicine”, despite the fact that I told him they don’t work!  At any rate, I stayed in the car while he went in to buy “some things.”  It wasn’t too long before he was back empty handed…..and asking for some help in deciding what to buy!  It seems that he was overwhelmed and confused by all of the different choices….so I thought this was a good time to review all of the “ingredients” in OTC cough/cold medications. But remember, OTC cough and cold products are not recommended AT ALL for children under the age of 4. 

Most of the products that are advertised and sold for treating coughs and colds contain either a decongestant, antihistamine, expectorant, or anti-jussive (for cough).  But many of the OTC medicines contain some combination of these ingredients and there are many similar products with different brand names. Just gazing at the row of choices is enough to confuse anyone….even a doctor.

The most common decongestant used in OTC products is phenylephrine but its effectiveness in reducing nasal congestion from the common cold has been inconclusive. Another decongestant, pseudo ephedrine (Sudafed) is available, but has become restricted (it is a precursor in the manufacturing of methapmphetamine) and is now found behind the counter. Both of these drugs are often found in combination with other ingredients.

Antihistamines are also in many products. First generation antihistamines include diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine and are known for their tendency to be sedating. Second generation non sedating antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) are also found in some preparations ( typically with wording “daytime”) and are not sedating. In either case antihistamines do not seem to help the common cold.  Antihistamines do help allergies which are histamine mediated while a cold is not.

Anti-tussives or cough suppressants are commonly found in OTC cold medications, as cough is one of the most irritating aspects of a cold.  Dextromethorphan acts on the cough center in the brain to suppress coughing. It is the main ingredient in many OTC cough syrups but may also be found in many cough and cold combos in either liquid or pill form.

Guaifenesin is an expectorant and is found in many products, but again has not been found to have a measurable effect on mucous production from a cold.

Lastly, there are many products that are advertised to help with the “aches and pains” of a cold including acetaminophen and ibuprofen which may be found in combination with some of the above ingredients.

So…you have to read labels and make sure you “know” what you are getting. Too many people do not realize that they may be taking the same medicine but with different brand names, and this could cause an overdose.  

But the take home message is that “we” spend billions of dollars on these OTC products with continued studies showing minimal if any effect on the common cold when compared to placebo!  

I would spend my money on some Vicks, honey, and chicken soup and forgo the confusion on the cough and cold aisle.

Daily Dose

Asthma

1:30 to read

May is Asthma Awareness Month and I am certainly seeing many patients whose asthma and wheezing is getting the best of them right now. With all of the major weather changes across the country, pollen counts through the roof, and upper respiratory viruses still circulating, there are quite a few triggers to set off wheezing.

 

Asthma is a chronic lung disease and affects more than 6 million children in the United States. Asthma causes wheezing and chest tightness in some, while it may only cause nighttime cough and cough with exercise in others. There is not one single presentation to asthma and the diagnosis is best made with a good history and physical exam.  Although asthma is a chronic disease you may only have attacks when something is bothering your lungs (triggers).

 

The biggest challenge I see as a pediatrician is teaching both parents and children to recognize their triggers and to know what their medications are. Every patient should have an asthma action plan, but in some cases, a child may have only wheezed once..and their parents received an inhaler or a nebulizer but really does not know what to do if their child wheezes again.

 

If your child has wheezed before, and you have a family history of wheezing, your child has a greater chance of wheezing again.  You should have a discussion with your pediatrician about how to recognize wheezing in your child. At the same time, if you have ever received a medication for wheezing, make sure you know the name or names of the medication. I see many parents who come in to the office and they may have been seen at an ER or urgent care when they were noted to be wheezing. They received an “inhaler”, but the parent has no clue as to the name of the inhaler (they may say, “it is blue”), and they don’t understand how the medications work.

 

The two points I try to make with every patient I see with wheezing:  

#1  Know the names of the medications that you have

#2  Know what the medications do

 

There are two issues with asthma, lung inflammation and broncho spasm (narrowing of the airways). So…there are two medications commonly used to treat these issues.  Inhaled steroids (there are tons of brands) are used as a preventative and decrease inflammation, while albuterol (again tons of brands) is a broncho-dilator and opens up the narrowed airways.  I see too many patients that bring in a bag full of medications, from numerous doctors and still don’t understand what their medications are used for, when to use them and that several of their inhalers, while having different names, are actually the same medicine.

 

Lastly, children with divorced parents need to have inhalers available at both homes. I think it is too complicated to try and have parents hand the inhaler or medication back and forth and think they will not forget or lose the medication.  Ask your doctor to have meds for both houses.

Seeing that is is Asthma Awareness month, get your medications out and make sure that they are not expired and if you don’t understand how or when to use them, make an appointment with your pediatrician and get an asthma action plan in place. Be prepared!  

Daily Dose

Airborne & Your Kids

1.45 to read

It’s cold & flu season and I have already been receiving emails from parents asking what works/doesn’t work.  I reviewed a recent note from a well-meaning dad asking if he could give his 3 year old son Airborne to help “offset colds”. 

I myself have just recovered from my first cold of the “season” and have looked high and low for ANYTHING that might prevent or treat the common cold. As I tell my own patients on a daily basis, if I had the “magic pill” I would certainly not only manufacture it to distribute to everyone, but I would also be getting ready to accept Nobel Prize in medicine for solving the mystery of preventing the common cold!!  Airborne is NOT the magic potion and I see no reason to use it period.

I recently did an extensive review of complementary and alternative medicine for the common cold (selfishly trying to cure myself) and once again came up empty handed for any proven remedies. There are still a lot of ongoing studies (someone will win the Nobel Prize one day), but nothing so far has really proven to be the panacea.

Many people “swear” by Airborne.  I am just not sure what they are thinking it does. If you read their website it states, “there are scientific studies that the ingredients in Airborne have been shown to support the immune system”. I can’t find those studies anywhere. 

In 2008 a class action suit against Airborne resulted in a $23 million dollar fine for “misleading consumers and making false claims”, when Airborne claimed to “ward off colds”. They have now changed their advertising to the wording, “boosting the immune system” which also seems like deceptive advertising to me. Regardless, they continue to make millions (despite that huge fine).  My mother even called to say she thought she might take some before flying to visit at Thanksgiving asking, “did I think that would help her from getting sick?” OMG!

The ingredients in Airborne include Zinc, ginger, Echinacea, vitamins, minerals, and herbs.  This is what I commonly call “hocus pocus”.  Many of the ingredients in Airborne have been studied for use during a cold, without a lot of success.  Zinc is still being studied with varying outcomes, but there are still no definitive guidelines on using Zinc for a cold. Stay tuned for more as more studies are completed.

In the meantime, the answer to the email is NO; I would not give a 3 year old Airborne. What I would do is make sure that your child is getting nutritious meals, adequate sleep and that they learn to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough (hand hygiene). I would put the money you would spend on Airborne in their piggy bank for future college expenses.   I would also make sure to get your child their Flu vaccine. We do have data that vaccines work!

That’s’ your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Treating Scabies

There has been an outbreak of scabies recently. Here's how to treat it.I received an email via our iPhone App from a mother whose 6 year old son had scabies and had been treated two times with permethrin cream, but had just had another re-occurrence.  She wondered if there were any other options for treatment.

Scabies is a mite that causes an eczematous skin rash with associated horrible itching. Infestation with the scabies mite is the result of skin to skin contact.  The mite burrows beneath the skin and the feces of the mite causes an allergic hypersensitivity reaction with resulting skin inflammation and itching. It can be fairly miserable when it goes on for awhile. (Once again my own son had it 20 years ago and that was actually one of the first times I had seen the rash of scabies and it took 3 different doctors including an allergist to finally diagnose it! ). It is sometimes easily diagnosed as a child will have a classic rash on their, trunk, arms and legs, and may even has the classic burrow tract of the mite between their toes and fingers. At other times scabies can be a great masquerader and the diagnosis may be made by scraping the skin and looking at it under the microscope where the actual mite or mite parts may be seen. If in doubt it is always a good idea to do a scraping. The time from infestation with the mite to actually symptoms may be as long as 6 weeks. During this time the “index” case in a family harbors the mites and are infectious, but they may not yet be symptomatic with the typical rash of scabies. When you diagnose a child with scabies the most important thing to do is to not only treat the child but treat the entire family unit.  Because the mite has such a long infectious incubation period it is important to treat all family members at the same time.  The standard treatment is with 5% permethrin cream, which is typically applied at night to all body surfaces from neck to toes. (do not bath before putting on the cream as this will help reduce the systemic absorption of the medicine). Make sure to get the cream between the web spaces of the fingers and toes.  The cream is left on over night (remember entire family) and then washed off in the am.  The next day I would wash all of the clothes and sheets in hot water.  If there are clothing that will not tolerate this put them in a platic bag for 72 hours (which is the life span of the mite off of the body). Even after a patient is successfully treated the itching may continue for several more days and may be treated with topical steroid cream (Cortaid over the counter or a prescription steroid cream).  What you will notice is that while the intense itching is diminishing, there are no NEW areas of rash. Most treatment failures seem to be due to not applying the cream with attention to complete coverage,  or to not treating the entire family at the same time. Another medication Lindane (Kwell) has been used to treat scabie,  but has been associated with the potential for neurotoxicity and is rarely prescribed, especially for younger children. There is also an antiparasitic medication, Ivermectin that is currently being studied for the treatment of scabies. That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question to Dr. Sue!

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Daily Dose

Codeine & Children

1:30 to read

I order to keep us all safe, the FDA is constantly monitoring drugs and their side effects.  For many years codeine was prescribed for children for pain relief as well as to suppress coughs.  Over the last few years there has been more and more discussion about limiting the use of narcotics in children, but I continue to see some children who come from seeing other physicians and have received a prescription that contains codeine.

 

The FDA just issued new warnings against using prescription codeine in children and adolescents. The FDA reviewed adverse event reports from the past 50 years and found reports of severe breathing problems and 24 deaths linked to codeine in children and adolescents. Genetic variation in codeine metabolism may lead to excessive morphine levels in some children.

 

The FDA also performed a literature review which noted excessive sleepiness and breathing problems, including one death, in breast-fed infants whose mothers used codeine.

 

Due to these findings the FDA is now recommending that “codeine should not be used for pain or cough in children under 12 years of age”. They have also issued a warning that codeine should not be used in adolescents aged 12-18 “who are obese or have conditions associated with breathing problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea or severe lung disease”. In retrospect, codeine was prescribed to more than 800,000 children younger than11 years in 2011. Amazingly, codeine is currently available in over-the-counter cough medicines in 28 states.  

 

Lastly, the FDA “strengthened the warning” regarding codeine and breast feeding. They now recommend that breast- feeding women do not use codeine…which may change the post delivery pain protocol. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (Ibuprofen) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are preferred and are effective for mild to moderate postpartum pain. As a pediatrician it is important that I discuss this with new breast-feeding mothers as well. 

Daily Dose

How to Swallow a Pill

1:15 to read

I have always been a proponent of teaching children to swallow a pill.  In fact, I think I taught my boys to swallow a pill before they were 5 years old, mainly because I was tired of trying to find the measuring cup or syringe for the liquid medicine, which often didn’t go down “like spoon full of sugar”, even though we would sing the song during dosing. 

By the time one child had learned to swallow a pill the other two boys, as competitive as they were, decided that they too could do it, even the 2 year old.  So, based on that experience I have been encouraging young patients to swallow pills, and even teaching them in the office with my stash of mini M&M’s and Tic Tacs!  I also know that if you wait too long it becomes a huge ISSUE.

Well, who knew that someone would actually study “pediatric pill swallowing”?  In an article just published in the May issue of Pediatrics the authors looked at different pill swallowing interventions.  They found that up to 50 % of children were unable to swallow a pill.   Problems swallowing pills included a variety of reasons including fear, anxiety and intolerance to unpleasant flavors. 

The authors reviewed 5 articles published since 1987 which found that behavioral therapy, flavored throat sprays, specialized pill cups and verbal instruction with correct head and tongue positioning all helped children to swallow pills. They also found that pill swallowing training as “young as 2 years helped increase the likelihood of ease of pill swallowing”.

So, like many things....jump in with your young child and master the art of pill swallowing sooner than later. It will make everyone’s life easier.

Last caveat, I always tell my patients who are older “non-pill” swallowers, “you cannot possibly operate a motor vehicle if you can’t swallow a pill”! This is usually a huge motivator for the “late swallower” and they conquer the challenge. 

Daily Dose

The Dangers of Homeopathic 'Medications'

The FDA announced that they are advising consumers not to use Zicam cold remedy nasal gel or swabs due to an association with the loss of the sense of smell.Even with cough and cold season behind us, over the counter cough and cold preparations continue to be in the news. The FDA announced yesterday that they are advising consumers not to use Zicam cold remedy nasal gel or swabs due to an association with the loss of the sense of smell, also termed anosmia.

The FDA reported that they had received over 130 reports of the loss of smell secondary to Zicam use, and the anosmia may be temporary or permanent and has been reported to occur even after a single dose. There were also reports of loss of taste. In a letter to Matrixx Initiatives, the maker of Zicam, the FDA also requested efficacy data showing that Zicam actually “shortens the duration of the common cold”, as well as the “severity of a cold” as stated on their label. Many parents assume that “homeopathic” medications and/or supplements are safe for use in their children, because they are “not” drugs. Homeopathic medications are often brought to market without FDA approval as they are not marketed as “drugs” and therefore may not be scrutinized by the FDA and get around new drug approval requirements, but they are often acting as drugs. In the case of Zicam, which contains zinc gluconate as its major ingredient, there may be deleterious and serious side effects from zinc absorbed intranasally. Other cold products, such as Airborne have been marketed in similar manners. Although hugely successful in the marketplace (including my Mother who bought some) there is no data on their true effectiveness or safety. To my knowledge there is still not data in the mainstream medical literature that shows any decrease in cold severity and duration with herbal concoctions (also known as hocus pocus in my vernacular). There continue to be ongoing randomized, placebo controlled, double blind studies (the gold standard in medicine) to look into drugs, herbs, supplements and such as cures to the common cold. Once found there will surely be a Nobel Prize awarded as there is not a man, woman or child who would not like to get over their cold as quickly as possible. Until such a time, it is important for parents to use “home remedies” such as fluids, rest, and good hand washing as the most important defense against the common cold and not over the counter products. We will discuss this again in the fall for as we all know, colds are just a season away. That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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Daily Dose

Medicine Dosing Errors

1:30 to read

How do you give your baby/toddler/child their medications? In a recent article in Pediatrics it was found that up to 80 percent of parents have made a dosing error when administering liquid medicine to their children.  The study looked at children eight years old or younger. 

 

In the study both English and Spanish speaking parents were asked to measure different amounts of liquid medicines using different “tools”, including a dosing cup, and different sized syringes. They also were given different instructions with either text only or text with pictures. The different dosing tools were labeled with either milliliters/teaspoon or milliliters only.  Lots of variables! 

 

Not surprising to me, the parents who used the texts/picture combination instructions and who also used the milliliter only labeled dosing tools had the lowest incidence of dosing errors.  When parents had to use any math skills to calculate the correct dosage there were more dosing errors.  Most dosing errors were also overdosing rather than under-dosing the liquid medications.

 

This was an important article not only for parents to realize that it is not uncommon to make an error when giving their child medication, but also for doctors who write the prescriptions.  Before electronic medical records and “e-prescribing” I would typically write medication instructions in milliliters and teaspoons…in other words “take 5ml/1 tsp by mouth once daily”.  With electronic record you can only make one dosing choice which I now do in milliliters. But, with that being said, I still get phone calls from parents asking “how many teaspoons is 7.5 ml?”.

 

Previous studies have also shown numerous dosing errors when parents use kitchen teaspoons and tablespoons to try and measure their child’s medication. 

 

Some over the counter drug makers have tried to cut down on dosing errors with their liquid medications by making all of their products, whether for infants or children, the same strength. The only difference is the dosing tool that accompanies the medicine (syringe vs cup).  Interestingly, these medications may have a price difference when they are actually the same thing.  

 

This study may help to find strategies for comprehensive labeling/dosing for pediatric liquid medications, which will ultimately reduce errors.  Stay tuned for more!

 

 

 

 

 

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