Cincinnati Family Magazine

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May 29, 2024

A Spoonful of Sugar?

The enticing flavors of kids’ medicine come in every color of the rainbow, but some kids still want none of it. What do you do when your sick child won’t take her medicine?

Mary Poppins was no fool. The idea of balancing the bitter taste of medicine with a little something sweet is a good one. But sometimes – and with stubborn kids – it takes more than just a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.

Taking care of a sick child is tough. But the typical lack of sleep and worry that goes with the territory can turn to frustration, even fear, when a child refuses to take his medicine or worse yet, vomits every dose. Thankfully, pharmaceutical companies are coming out with new and ingenious ways to make children’s medicines more flavorful and fun. These tasty remedies combined with a few time honored dosing tricks can help weary parents take the yuck out of being sick.

Aim for the Cheeks

Lots of babies swallow liquid medicine like ibuprofen or antibiotics without a second thought. But many, particularly those who are accustomed to simple milk and baby food diets, are offended by the strong taste and spit it right out. Molly R. Hood, M.D., of Pediatric Associates of Franklin recommends using a dosing syringe (available at your doctor’s office or for sale at most drugstores) to dispense the medicine in the back of the baby’s mouth or toward her cheek. “Most of the taste buds are located toward the front of the tongue,” she says, “and aiming the medicine away from this area can help.” She also suggests giving the child a popsicle – if they’re old enough – beforehand to numb the taste buds a little.

If neither of those tips work or if you have a young child with a fever accompanied by vomiting, another option is to use acetaminophen suppositories instead (available at drugstores). In the case of antibiotics, if you have a baby who consistently spits out or vomits her medication, ask your doctor to skip the prescription and just give your little one a shot.

Get Creative in the Kitchen

Certain foods hide medicine well. Hood says, “Mix the medicine with a strong flavor such as chocolate, pancake syrup or cherry syrup.” Chocolate pudding is a favorite medium for many parents, as is fruity flavored yogurt. You can try crushing pills and blending them with a spoonful of strawberry jam or peanut butter.

Mixing liquid meds with fruit juice also works well, but Hood cautions against using a full bottle of juice or a large bowlful of food. “If the child doesn’t drink or eat all of it, you will have no way of knowing how much medicine they actually received,” she says. Particularly picky kids will sometimes go for the one-and-one method of eating a spoonful of normal yogurt or pudding, then one mixed with medicine. It takes longer, but it’s worth the effort. Sometimes a preemptive spoonful of peanut butter or a handful of something salty like crackers or chips helps make young patients thirsty enough to gulp down some juice spiked with cough syrup a few minutes later.

While it’s usually OK to hide remedies in food and drinks, some medications can lose their effectiveness when mixed, so ask your doctor or pharmacist before getting creative in the kitchen. And make sure to throw away any uneaten food/medicine concoctions since their potency is unknown, and you run the risk of someone else accidentally ingesting the drugs hidden inside.

The Gummy Bear Revolution

Children’s medications have come a long way since the days of chalky, orange, chewable aspirin and cherry flavored cough drops. Today’s kids can decide if they want their Motrin to taste like bubblegum, grape, orange or fruit punch. Tylenol offers fizzy, candy-like Soft Chews in grape and cherry, and Triaminic makes paper-thin cough strips that melt like magic on a child’s tongue. Kids with an upset stomach can suck on Pedialyte popsicles full of fruit flavor and electrolytes to get them back on their feet, while their sniffling counterparts can chew Kids-eeze zinc-infused bubblegum to ward off an oncoming cold.

Wander down the cough-and-cold aisle, and you’ll find homeopathic lollipops to calm a cough, even a brand called Lolliasthma designed for the “temporary relief of chest congestion and asthma.” And daily vitamins? Kids can’t get enough of them because they can choose between the old fashioned fruity chewable form, the snazzy new watermelon flavored melt strips, vitamin gumballs or those oh-so-yummy gummy bear vitamins.

There’s a virtual candy store behind the prescription counter too. Omnicef is a popular strawberry flavored antibiotic commonly prescribed for ear infections and strep throat. But if your child is prescribed something different, you can still make it more palatable before taking it home because most pharmacies now offer the Flavorx system: For an extra couple of dollars, the pharmacist will add any one of about 10 different kid-friendly flavors to over 600 common medications to help take an edge off the icky taste. And stay tuned for an up-and-coming product called Med Coat that, according to the manufacturers, “enables the user himself to apply a thin coating of strawberry, mint or lemon flavor to tablets just before taking them.”

Blessing or Curse?

“If I couldn’t sneak fruit flavored remedies into my son’s favorite watermelon Gogurt, we’d suffer through every illness without relief, because that child can detect a single molecule of medicine from a mile away and will throw up the instant a drop of it passes his lips,” says Kim Weiss, a Nashville mom. Her neighbor, Camie Devin, says, “My kids absolutely love their gummy vitamins and always ask for more. They don’t completely understand that too much of a good thing can actually make them sick.”

While parents generally appreciate the getting a little extra help in the dosing department, what do doctors think about drugs masquerading as candy? Is it potentially dangerous? A little too tempting?

Chris Patton, M.D., of Nashville’s Old Harding Pediatric Associates says, “The difficult part of ensuring a medication works is often getting it down, so I feel flavoring is very good. However, these medicines shouldn’t be introduced as “candy.” They should be securely kept and disposed of once they’re no longer needed.” He reminds parents that no container is truly childproof, so store and handle all medication just as you would household cleaning supplies and other toxic materials.

Adverse Reactions

If your child vomits after taking medicine, it may need to be repeated, but not without a doctor’s approval. Patton says that medicine generally has to stay “down” for 20 to 30 minutes to be considered a proper dose, but that’s just a rule of thumb, so check with your pediatrician before trying again.

Vomiting is often a temporary reaction to a common virus, and there’s no hope administering oral remedies. The same goes for kids like Weiss’s who just plain hate the chemical taste of medicine and who wind up adding dehydration to their list of ailments when they throw up not only their medicine but their dinner as well. That’s when over-the-counter suppositories and a shot at the doctor’s office come in handy.

Sometimes however, children are actually allergic to the drugs they’re being given. “Allergies may occur to any drug and are most commonly evidenced by rashes. Serious allergic reactions are often announced by vomiting, swelling of the lips or tongue, scratchy throat, or difficulty breathing,” Patton explains. If you suspect your child suffers from a drug allergy, get immediate medical attention.

Playing Doctor

With all yummy new options available at your local drugstore, it gets easier and easier to just hand over a delicious remedy to dry up that runny nose or help a cranky baby sleep through the night. While some parents just keep a box of Band-Aids and a bottle of children’s Tylenol around, other families stock entire home pharmacies with solutions for every symptom. Is one method better than another?

Hood says, “As for over-the-counter meds, I belong to the “less is more” philosophy. Because there are so many options of cold medicines on the market, it becomes very easy to inadvertently overdose your child if there is more than one kind in the medicine cabinet or more than one caregiver is involved.” She explains that a brand for “cough and sore throat” may contain a painkiller, a cough suppressant and an unexpected decongestant, and this can lead to overdosage and side effects.

Correct dosing is another problem with playing doctor without a medical degree. Dosing charts on the back of medicines boxes usually list doses by age. But that can be misleading and create improper dosing when you’ve got a 4-year-old who weighs 50 pounds (as I do) or overdosing when you’ve got a 7-year-old that weighs 40 pounds. (as my next door neighbor does). Your best bet is to simply discuss your child’s symptoms with a physician and ask for recommendations for the best brand of over-the-counter relief and the correct amount to administer.

Products in the Pipeline

Doctors and scientists are parents too, and they’re always coming up with new and ingenious methods of delivering medication. Hood says that there’s an ibuprofen skin patch in the works, and Biotech researchers have already created a banana that contains a vaccine for hepatitis B. That’s great news for weary parents and wary kids who find the whole idea of taking medicine ” well ” yucky. So stay tuned for all the new products on the horizon, but always check with your doctor before trying them out on your family.

Deborah Bohn is a locally based freelance writer and frequent contributor to this publication.

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