With summer winding down and a new school year starting up, it’s a great time to look through the family medicine cabinet and make sure you are prepared. Here are a few of the questions I get asked frequently about over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

Q:  Are store brands okay?

The FDA regulates OTC medication, and all
medications are required to list ingredients on their label. Check labels to compare. For example, the brand name allergy medication Claritin is the drug loratadine, and the generic version is the exact same medication. It is safe and generally less expensive to purchase generic versions of most brand name medications.

Flavorings and forms may differ though, so if your child tolerates chewable tablets but hates liquids, it may be worth the expense to pay for the brand name tablets.

Q:  Should I treat a fever?

Fevers do not necessarily have to be treated. If your child’s temperature is around 100 to 102 degrees F and she is acting well, eating and drinking and not overly fussy or uncomfortable, it is perfectly okay to just watch her. Dress your child lightly for comfort.

Avoid cold baths, which may cause your child to shiver or become more uncomfortable. If the fever is causing discomfort, acetaminophen or ibuprofen are perfectly good choices to treat fever. If your child is having severe belly pain, headache, vomiting or other concerning symptoms, don’t hesitate to put a call in to your doctor.

Q:  What can I give for cold or flu symptoms?

Treat the fever, if needed. For coughs and sore throat, a teaspoon of dark honey mixed with a teaspoon of lemon juice is an effective home remedy for children over the age of 1. Warm saltwater gargles are also helpful for a sore throat in older kids.

Most OTC medications have minimal effectiveness for cold and flu symptoms. If you feel you need to give your older child a cold medication, stick with single ingredient preparations, so that you don’t need to worry about duplicating or overdosing medications.

 Q:  What if my child has an allergic reaction?

Benadryl in oral form is important to have around for milder allergic reactions to food, insect bites or exposure to irritating plants. Topical preparations of Benadryl or hydrocortisone can also help.

If your child has had a serious reaction to a food or insect bite or sting, talk to your doctor. You may need to have injectable epinephrine, such as Epi-pen or Auvi-Q, available.

A serious allergic reaction includes symptoms such as cough, wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, swelling of the face or tongue and difficulty swallowing. Never hesitate to call 911 for a child who is having these severe symptoms.

 Q:  What about minor injuries, cuts and scrapes?

For a minor injury like a twisted ankle or bruised knee, you can apply an ice pack for 15 minutes at a time. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin; wrap the pack in a towel. Elevate the affected limb. If your child will not bear weight or has a significant limp, get it checked out.

Cuts and scrapes should be cleaned with warm water and soap.

A product called Wound Wash, which is sterile water solution in a spray can, is great for cleaning out minor road rash and dirty abrasions. After cleaning, apply a topical antibiotic and lightly cover the area with a bandage.

 Q:  What do I do with expired medications?

Check your medication expiration dates. The date is often printed directly on the packaging. If the medication is expired, dispose of it safely.

Visit disposemymeds.org to find local pharmacies that can dispose of prescription medications safely.


Dr. Theresa Willis is a board certified pediatric physician practicing in Austin.






Your Family Medicine Cabinet


Acetaminophen and ibuprofen, for fever reduction and pain relief (Note: Do not give aspirin to children
under age 12. It has been linked to Reye Syndrome, a rare disorder that affects the brain and liver, and can be fatal.)

    • Adhesive tape
    • Allergy eye drops
    • Antibacterial ointment, for minor cuts and burns
    • Antifungal cream, for diaper rash
    • Bandages in a variety of sizes
    • Benadryl, for allergic reactions
    • Calamine lotion, for minor skin irritations
    • Cotton balls and swabs
    • Disinfectant and alcohol wipes,
      for minor cuts and scrapes
    • Dosage spoon or cups
    • Gauze pads in a variety of sizes
    • Hydrocortisone cream, for insect bites and stings
    • Insect repellent
    • Nasal aspirator bulb
    • Petroleum jelly, for minor burns and abrasions
    • Soap, for disinfecting cuts
    • Sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher; do not use on infants under 6 months old)
    • Thermometer


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