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Common Questions Parents Ask Pediatricians

Posted January 30, 2014 featuring Michael Cabana, MD, MPH

Michael Cabana, MD, MPH

Photo of Michael Cabana, MD, MPH

Dr. Cabana is the chief of the division of general pediatrics and professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and biostatistics at University of California, San Francisco and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

As a pediatrician, I get asked many questions by parents concerned about their child’s well-being. In particular, parents ask me about the safe use of over-the-counter medicines. While some parents may feel alone in their worries, the questions I receive are often very similar and easily addressed. Here are four questions I commonly get asked by parents and my tips on how you can help keep your child happy and healthy.

1)      In what circumstance should I give my child a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and how can I make sure I administer the proper dose?

If your child is in apparent discomfort, pain relievers can be used to relieve symptoms. Common reasons to give your child a pain reliever are for easing discomfort from an ear infection or teething. Make sure you give your child the proper dose by following these smart safety rules:

  • Before giving your child any medicines, make sure you know your child’s weight. Dosing is most accurate based on weight, not age.
  • Read the package label very carefully for proper dosing instructions and always use the measuring device that comes with the medicine. Be careful about mixing different over-the-counter medications. They may have different names, but they may also have the same active ingredient. Using multiple medications with the same active ingredient may lead to an inadvertent overdose.
  • If your child is younger than three months and is not acting typically or has a temperature over 100.5° Fahrenheit, consult your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before giving a pain reliever or fever reducer containing ibuprofen if your baby is six months old or younger or for acetaminophen if your child is younger than 2 years.

Always consult your doctor if you are unsure that a certain type of pain reliever is appropriate for your child’s symptoms and/or age. For example, OTC cough and cold medications (including cough suppressants, cough expectorants and multi-symptom cold medicines) are not recommended for infants and young children.

2)      Should I give my child a daily multivitamin? Are there any concerns I should be aware of?

Most children don’t need supplements and can get all the nutrients they need with a well-balanced, healthy diet. Parents can ensure their children are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need by sticking to the choosemyplate.gov recommended daily servings and food groups. However, in certain cases, your child may benefit from taking a taking a multivitamin or vitamin supplement:

  • If your child is a picky eater, has food sensitivities or follows a vegetarian diet and you’re concerned your child isn’t getting the nutrients he or she needs, talk to your pediatrician to see if your child may benefit from taking a multivitamin in order to meet his recommended daily allowance for certain vitamins or minerals lacking in his normal diet.
  • The RDA for children includes 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin D a day, which has been shown to help bone growth and development. We’re learning more about the role of vitamin D to help protect against disease and infection, as well.

Note that it is important to talk to your pediatrician before giving any vitamin supplements to your child to make sure it will be beneficial and there is no risk of overdose. Excessive amounts of vitamins, such as vitamins A, C or D, can produce symptoms, such as nausea, rashes or headaches.

3)      How should I treat my child’s cut and how do I know if he needs stitches?

Children are very prone to cuts and scrapes. Minor cuts and scrapes can usually be treated at home. But sometimes a trip to the doctor or hospital is necessary. Proper care is critical to reduce the risk of infection and help ensure the wound heals quickly. Follow these simple steps to properly treat your child’s cut or scrape:

  • If the wound is bleeding, apply direct pressure with a clean bandage or towel until the bleeding stops.
  • Check for glass, dirt or other foreign materials in the wound. Flush debris out with cool running water or use tweezers (cleaned with rubbing alcohol first) to carefully lift it out.
  • Wash the wound with soap and water. Gently scrub out any dirt using a washcloth.
  • After washing and drying the area, apply an antibiotic ointment, such as Polysporin or Bactracin to reduce the risk of an infection. Loosely cover the wound with a bandage.
  • Don't use rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, iodine or Mercurochrome directly on the wound. Doing so can cause your child more pain and may slow healing.

If a cut is large or very deep, stitches may be needed. Your child’s wound should be evaluated as soon as possible, ideally within a few hours to reduce the risk of infection and minimize scarring. Significant cuts that involve the hands, face, chest, abdomen or head may also affect future function and appearance or be indicative of other associated injury to deeper parts of the body. As a result, it is a good idea to have your child evaluated as soon as possible.

4)      What is the best way to treat diaper rash?

While diaper rashes can have many different causes, these easy remedies can help relieve common symptoms: 

  • If it seems like the diaper rash is due to irritation, use an ointment, such as petroleum ointment, petroleum jelly, non-petroleum jelly, lanolin products and zinc oxide to form a protective shield on your child’s skin after every diaper change. This can help prevent further irritation caused by stool and urine. Some popular over the counter remedies include: A+D, Balmex, Desitin and Triple paste. If the rash continues to get worse, consult your doctor.
  • Change your baby’s diaper frequently to keep your child clean and dry.
  • In some cases it may help to put your child’s diaper on loosely or try a different brand of disposable diapers to see if it makes a difference. For example, an extra-absorbent option or one made for sensitive skin might help relieve symptoms. Letting your child go without a diaper for short periods of time may also help.

Note that you should never use an OTC topical pain reliever or topical medication containing hydrocortisone on a child with diaper rash unless instructed by your doctor. If used incorrectly, it can make your child’s symptoms worse or cause other side effects. 

About From the Experts

OTCsafety.org has partnered with Better Health, MedHelp, and third-party experts to create the From the Experts resource, a section dedicated to providing you with information from experts about the safe use of OTC medicines for you or your loved ones.

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