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Back to School, Back To GERMS

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The end of summer is bittersweet. For the kids, it's the end of those mid-week swim sessions and lazy weekday mornings at the house. The barefoot beach days of sun, sand and surf will soon be replaced by the hurried scramble of getting up and out the door on time. It's back-to-school season and with the first sound of the school bell, the start of a new chapter awaits. I like to assure my kids that there are far better things that lie ahead, than any we leave behind. And even though the summer was packed with joyous adventures, this next school year will be the start of something wonderful for not only them, but for Mom too.

When I was a school teacher, back-to-school often meant back to being sick. Being in close quarters with so many kids, sharing pencils, playing with toys, touching door knobs all lead to the back-to-school bugs. Like clock work, year after year, I was sick right after the beginning of the school year. While everyone is busy prepping and shopping for back to school supplies, new backpacks, sanitizing wipes and tissues for the teachers, now is the perfect time to take some time out to familiarize yourself with the Drug Facts label. No matter if your kids are in preschool or elementary school, the back-to-school kid sicknesses are simply inevitable.


If you've ever been sick with multiple symptoms like fever, cough and cold, and if you've helped your child find relief with those symptoms, reading the Drug Facts label is necessary. This subject is just as important for adult usage, as it is for adults administering medicine to children. It is just as relevant for anyone who could be taking more than one medicine, those with chronic illnesses, young and old alike. Year after year, there are countless overdoses every day from not properly administering over-the-counter (OTC) medication.

Before giving yourself or your child an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, you need to ask:

1. What ingredients are in this medicine & for what symptoms are you treating?

2. Is there a combination of medicines?

Reading the Drug Facts label helps answer these critically important questions. Americans are regularly taking OTC medicines for various reasons, be it pain or joint relief, allergy or sinus pressure, or to provide pain relief to their kids - but how often and how thoroughly are we reading the Drug Facts label?

In the infographic below, you will find 6 tips in breaking down the key parts of the Drug Facts label to help parents and adults alike better understand the medicines they are taking:

1. Reading the active ingredients is crucial
Some medications have more than one active ingredient (i.e. cough and cold meds). If your child has a cough, cold and fever, it's imperative that you are certain you aren't dosing the same ingredient twice. For example, acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in America, in over 600 products. If you are giving your child cough, cold medicine, but then also plan to give your child acetaminophen to help treat fever, you want to be sure you aren't accidentally giving them a double dose - which is why familiarizing yourself with all the ingredients is really important. Some medications have singular ingredients and some have more than one.

2. Uses of OTC Medicine
Consider here why you are giving or taking this medicine because most OTC medicines treat symptoms, but do NOT cure illnesses. As a cautious parent, before administering over the counter drugs, I try to wait to see if it's absolutely necessary. And whenever I question myself, I ALWAYS consult my pediatrician to be properly advised. And if your pediatrician is not available (for example, during the weekend), consulting a pharmacist for guidance can also be informative.

3. Sleepy
Parents should NEVER use medicine to make a child sleepy. I can't begin to tell you how many times people have said just give the baby a dose of medicine and then he will sleep. In my opinion, this is the absolute worst advice any parent can give. Under no circumstance should you ever administer OTC medicine to make a child sleepy.

4. Age and Properly Dosing
Cough and cold medications are labeled for children ages 4 and over. This is really important if you have children under the age of four. What I like to do is call my pediatrician and find out the proper dose for my infant based on his age and weight. You should NEVER guess and always consult your doctor. Another thing I do if my child is sick in the middle of the night is write down the time I gave the medicine to him. I also find pre-measuring before I go to bed to be extremely helpful so I don't accidentally give the wrong dose in the middle of the night.

5. Poison Control
If you are ever concerned that a child has gotten into an OTC medication accidentally, call poison control immediately: 1-800-222-1222

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On average, elementary school children get eight to twelve colds or cases of the flu each school year. According to the CDC, about 165 young kids everyday are seen in the emergency room for the wrong dose of OTC medicines. These visits can be avoided, if you know what to give your child.

There shouldn't be any guesswork when it comes to properly dosing OTC medicines for your little ones. Reading the Drug Facts label before administering is crucial. The KYOTCs web site (your one stop resource for OTC medicine information) offers an interactive Drug Facts label explaining what you should be looking for. If the label does not tell you the proper dosing for your child, ALWAYS call your healthcare provider to be advised.

Back to being sick is almost inevitable no matter how healthy your child is. The lurking unwanted germs always expose kids to the sniffles, sneezes and everything else. Instead of being panicked, as their mom, I prefer to be prepared. Reading and understanding the Drug Facts label and talking to our pediatrician may not prevent the germs, but it certainly can make me a better informed parent to properly administer OTC medicine. While the kids are back to doing their homework, mom is back to doing hers!

I would love to hear your stories, comment below.


"I am a proud ambassador of CHPA’s Educational Foundation, KnowYourOTCs, but all opinions are my own."

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