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Bad Medicine

Getting kids to take their dosage with ease

The cold and flu season is upon us, which means plenty of kids will need relief from their runny noses and sore throats. Your pediatrician can help you find the right medicine for what ails your brood, but he won't be in your home every day helping you administer that often-toxic-tasting tonic.

Take heart, parents. The following techniques can make dealing with your difficult patients a little bit easier.

Squirt it in

An oral syringe, available at most pharmacies, can be a great tool for administering medicine, since it clearly measures the dose and gives parents a spill-proof approach.

To use a syringe, place the tip into the liquid medicine bottle and pull back on the plunger until you have the prescribed dose. Any extra medication can easily be emptied back out of the syringe by pushing in on the plunger.

Next, gently put the syringe into the child's mouth and slowly press on the plunger, expelling the medication. Place the tip of the syringe inside the child's cheek, so it doesn't go straight down his throat. This can give the child a chance to swallow the medicine and can help him avoid any bad taste.

Parents who have success with the syringe approach can ask their pediatrician if any medicine they prescribe can be filled in a liquid form. Some medication can't be, but for some, there is a choice.

Flavor it up

Mary Poppins was right with her famous advice about using sugar to make medicine taste better. Flavoring helps get children to accept taking their medicine. Although some medications have a strong taste that is hard to mask, pharmacists can help many medicines go down easier with popular flavors like strawberry, cotton candy and bubble gum.

Flavored medicine may cost a few dollars more, but the peace of mind of having a child be a little more cooperative about taking his medicine can be worth it.

Use a sneak attack

Of course, if your pharmacist doesn't offer taste-enhancing options, you can always try the tried-and-true method of sneaking pills into a treat for your child.

Liquid medicine can be added to your child's milk or juice. But be sure you don't mix the medicine with too much liquid. You have to be sure your child will finish the entire drink, thereby getting all of his medicine.

However, before adding your child's medicine to any food or drink, check with your pharmacist or doctor to make sure that it will not change the medication's effectiveness.

And don't automatically crush the medication to mix in ice cream or a spoon full of jam. Some medications aren't as effective unless they're swallowed whole, so again, be sure that your pharmacist approves the method.

Things to avoid

These common medication pitfalls trip up even the most experienced parents.

  • Don't confuse dosages. There's a big difference between teaspoons and tablespoons, but reading a dosage label too quickly can cause an unintentional overdose. Always double-check the label.
  • Don't call it candy. Although it may get your child to open her mouth, calling medicine "candy" may cause your child to overdose. If a child thinks medicine is a treat, especially multi-vitamins shaped like gummy bears, she might eat more of it when you're unaware.
  • Don't mix it with too much food. A small dose of ibuprofen in a large bowl of pudding or cup of juice can get lost. If the child loses interest in the food or gets full, you won't be able to judge how much medicine he took.
  • Don't use regular spoons. A spoon from your silverware drawer may be fine for measuring out cooking ingredients, but the actual measurement on everyday spoons can vary widely. Instead, use a calibrated dosing spoon or other device with clear measurements marked on it.

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