“If We Can Send Men Into Space Why Can’t We Find Safe Cold Meds For Children Under 4?” said the mother who’s been up all night. By Jean Marie Keenan-Johnston

Pardon me if my writing today is a bit “off”, but it’s been an exhausting week!  It began with complaints of a sore throat, and by Saturday my little one’s cough was so bad we found ourselves at the doctor’s.  He ruled our pneumonia and settled on a diagnosis of Reactive Airway Disease, a medical term I know all too well after experiencing this same scenario with my older daughter a few years ago.  Thank goodness the nebulizer treatment they administered was a success!  A quick trip to the pharmacy, and we were on our way home with antibiotics (did I mention she also has an ear infection which I knew nothing about because she didn’t complain of anything but a sore throat?!?) and albuterol for nebulizer treatments.  After her reaction in the doctor’s office, I knew the nebulizer wasn’t going to be a welcome addition to her routine.  And after trying to medicate this child throughout the week, I knew without a doubt I was in for a daily wrestling match.  All this made me ponder for the gazillionth time since becoming a mother, “If we have such amazing technology that we can send men into space, transmit data using computers with screens that react to touch, and access bank accounts that know in an instant that I just used my debit card to pay Target $15.11, why can’t we find medications that are safe for children this young that don’t taste so bad it makes them run and hide???”

We’ve been down this road before.  My older daughter had such severe viral infections that she developed reactive airway disease three times between her first and second birthdays, each episode leading to longer and longer stays at St.  Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.  It didn’t take long to learn the drill when she got sick:  check respiratory rate OFTEN, race to emergency room, six hours of trying to stabilize breathing, ambulance ride to St. Christopher’s.   We usually didn’t have a long wait – children with blue lips and terrible respiratory rates are examined rather quickly.  Each time we watched them successfully stablize her breathing with nebulizer treatments and oral steriods.  But for my older daughter, the problem was that her oxygen wasn’t high enough to be discharged.  So Mommy and Child enjoyed a luxurious ambulance ride to St. Chris where we waited – Child on oxygen, Mommy desperately trying to entertain Child who was tied to the wall by breathing tubes, too sick to go to the playroom and too young to have any real understanding of what was happening to her.  Each time she got sick, as I administered Tylenol and nebulizer treatments while watching intently for signs of labored breathing, I questioned medical science wondering why they couldn’t make this dreadful experience at least a LITTLE more pleasant for my baby.  Why did the liquid oral steroids at the hospital have to be so “heavy” that they caused her to vomit them up again?  Wasn’t the point supposed to be that she kept them IN her system so they could work?   And if the ER had steroids that were chewable tablets, why didn’t a children’s hospital have the same?  Earlier, when we dealt with her first bad cold, my husband and I asked ourselves, the pediatrician and the pharmacist over and over- if there are cold medicines for children over the age of 4, then why am I told to just use a humidifier and saline with my child?  Doesn’t she too deserve to be congestion-free and sleeping soundly each night?  The pharmacist told us these medications don’t really work.  The pediatrician said studies proved they weren’t safe for children this age.  Friends offered more helpful suggestions…elevate her mattress.  Put her in a steamy bathroom.  Increase her fluid intake.  While I’m not a parent out to drug her child – I even avoid antibiotics as much as is safely possible – I was tired and frustrated and heartbroken watching my daughter suffer so greatly at the hands of these colds turned near deadly, and all I wanted was a way to make my happy little girl comfortable and content with her world again.

Now I find myself almost three years later, listening to the coughing from my younger child.  I’ve been up most of the night every night this week, running to her side at all hours when I hear that cough, offering water, propping her up again in bed, calming her young nerves.  I felt triumphant when I found homeopathic cough medicine that was labeled safe for children twelve months and older!  That is, until I smelled it as I poured it into the dosing cup.  I pretended it was wonderfully delicious, as yummy as my children’s cherry allergy medicine.  (Yes, I tasted it in front of her.)  I acted excited as I told my daughter she could take her bubble gum pills (junior tylenol) as soon as she finished the little tiny cup of medicine.  I forced a smile as my husband held her little arms and I tried to get the medicine in her mouth, persuading her all the while to swallow that ghastly concoction.  After three nights of this, I decided there had to be a better way, and I went back to Target looking for another medication.  Overhearing me talking to my children about the different medications, another woman in the aisle reminded me they actually dose medications based on children’s weight more so than age.  We both looked at my daughter and decided this was the day I was lucky they look so much like twins!  My little one has the body of a four-year-old!  With two very important pieces of information in mind – the woman’s reminder about medication dosing practices AND the past experiences we both had of ER doctors prescribing over-the-counter cold and cough remedies to our other children at a much younger age than my daughter is now – I made a decision that would possibly make my pediatrician look at me like I had two heads.  I left the store with a bottle of Delsym…a cough medication for children as young as four years of age.  My daughter fought me last night taking it, thanks to a long week of filling her mouth with that other putrid liquid.  But I’m sure it will be much easier tonight!

My younger daughter’s build, weighing in as an older child, and my older daughter’s age have both solved this problem for my family since we can now find medications to make them a little more comfortable when a bad cold strikes.  Personally, I’ve watched my children and I don’t agree with the pharmacist I spoke with…I admire her expertise and she’s actually a very good friend, so I hate to disagree.  But the sleep we all got last night will serve as proof that it did SOMETHING for her symptoms!  My days of worry about this problem are over since we won’t be having any more children.  But looking back it still makes me wonder…why do little ones have to suffer so when severe congestions keeps them from breathing and intense coughing keeps them awake?  Short of drugging them and old wives’ home remedies that liquor them up, there MUST be something in the medical labs of the world that will help our babies get through these difficult days of illness…and give their mommies and daddies a little sleep at the same time.

  1. 2 Responses to ““If We Can Send Men Into Space Why Can’t We Find Safe Cold Meds For Children Under 4?” said the mother who’s been up all night. By Jean Marie Keenan-Johnston”

  2. Oh, Jean…I’ve been down this road, too. Hospital stays, nebulizers, the oral, liquid steroids that my son kept vomiting up. We ended up having 3 people hold him down at age 4 to get a steroid injection in him with a 3 inch long needle!! My son had bad asthma episodes. He also has always despised all liquid children’s meds. That woman who said medication is based on weight is correct. In fact, my son recently had the cold-from-hell and there was no way he would take children’s Mucinex. I couldn’t give him the extended release adult tablet because it was dosed for adults, and the age recommendation was 12+. So I bought the regular adult Mucinex, cut it into quarters, and gave my son 3/4 of a dose, as he is 9 years old (here is when age DOES matter). Mucinex helped his cough. He got sleep, I got sleep. He got better, I got his cold. But at least I had his arsenal of meds to help myself to get some relief.

    And I have the same question…why the heck can’t they come up with at least an UNFLAVORED liquid kids medicine so that you can mix it with other foods children like??? I used to literally take a mortar and pestle and grind the heck out of properly dosed adult meds to try to disguise the med in a food my son would eat. He ABHORED children’s meds!! Still does!! In fact, my son has a playdate at a friend’s house today and he broke out in a rash. My friend has children’s Benadryl liquid, but my son was having a nervous breakdown because he hates the taste. I asked if she had adult benadryl, she did. He took one and she said the rash disappeared and he is off and playing.

    I think when you have a child with multiple medical conditions, you end up having to play “doctor” yourself. But also be wise about giving a med based on weight if the age range is within reason vs giving a smaller dose if the age range is too high. Also keep in mind that with cold meds, your child will only need them for about a week or so. Any meds given longer than that should be run by a doctor in case of possible side effects.

    Good luck, Jean! I feel for you! Body and mind!!!

    By Cara Meyers on Feb 24, 2013

  3. THANK YOU! We found one medication that’s tasteless and can be added to different foods and drinks – Miralax, a medication my oldest is on for the constipation that’s affecting her potty training. So if they can get it down, others could! Doesn’t really seem like that difficult a concept! Thanks for sharing!

    By jean on Feb 24, 2013