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Here’s why parents should never give over-the-counter cough and cold medicine to kids under 6

Here’s why parents should never give over-the-counter cough and cold medicine to kids under 6

Cough syrup and other over-the-counter cold medicines aren't recommended for kids under 6.

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Cough syrup and other over-the-counter cold medicines aren’t recommended for kids under 6.
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greenland/Shutterstock
  • Recent research in the BMJ found that certain cold remedies may not help young kids with nasal symptoms and could even cause harm.
  • A pediatrician told INSIDER that parents shouldn’t give over-the-counter cold and cough medicines to kids under six years old.
  • Instead, remedies like rest and hydration can help soothe symptoms while a cold runs its course.

Most kids come down with six to eight colds every single year. But if a kid fighting a cold is less than six years old, parents shouldn’t reach for over-the-counter medicines to relieve symptoms like nasal congestion.

In October, a paper published in the BMJ analyzed existing research on popular cold remedies and their effectiveness against three symptoms: Congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.

The paper concluded that, for kids, decongestant or antihistamine over-the-counter meds may not help and could cause harm, People reported on November 7.

“We do not recommend decongestant or formulations containing antihistamine in children under six and advise caution between six and 12 years,” the authors of the paper wrote. “There is no evidence that these treatments alleviate nasal symptoms and they can cause adverse effects such as drowsiness or gastrointestinal upset. Serious harm, such as convulsions, rapid heart rate, and death have been linked to decongestant use in very young children.”

This isn’t new entirely advice, however. Pediatricians have already recommended that parents not give over-the-counter cold or cough medicines to kids younger than six. Here’s what parents should know.

For kids under 6, the side effects of cough and cold meds outweigh any possible benefits

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“The biggest risk is when people try using different types of medicines without realizing they’re doubling up.”
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Old_CNX/Shutterstock

“Under the age of six, it is not recommended that any over-the-counter cold remedies be used,” Dr. Andrew Bernstein, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a spokesperson for American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), told INSIDER. “The side effects can way outweigh any potential benefits from these medications.”

Read more: 4 things that could make your cold worse – and 2 that won’t make it end faster

For kids six and older, the medications can be used, but they still may not prove very beneficial.

“All the over-the-counter cold medicines are only symptomatic treatment, and it seems that for some kids they work well and for some kids they don’t do too much,” Bernstein said. “And some kids, even when they’re older children, they still have a lot of side effects from the medications.”

Dextromethorphan, for example – a drug found in many over-the-counter cough medicines – may cause side effects including dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness, restlessness, nausea, and vomiting, according to the US National Library of Medicine.

The use of these medications can become risky if parents start combining different medications that contain the same active ingredients, Bernstein added.

“The biggest risk is when people try using different types of medicines without realizing they’re doubling up,” he said. “If you accidentally double up cough suppressant and antihistamine, that can cause a lot of sedation. If you double up on decongestants, you can cause feelings of nervousness or anxiety. Some people are susceptible to that even at the normal dosing, but that’s when we see the real problems, when people are doubling up.”

(On a related note: When it comes to medicines that can relieve pain and reduce fever, the recommendations are a bit different. The AAP says if your child is under two years old, you should call their pediatrician before giving them the fever reducers ibuprofen or acetaminophen. The AAP website has a guide explaining safe doses of those medicines and what to do if your child gets a fever.)

Instead of cold and cough medicines, try a few home remedies

Drinking warm liquids, like caffeine-free tea, can help kids feel better when they're sick, Bernstein said.

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Drinking warm liquids, like caffeine-free tea, can help kids feel better when they’re sick, Bernstein said.
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Shutterstock

“Even better than using any of the medications would be home remedies, some of which have been shown by science to be just as effective,” Bernstein said.

He recommended rest, staying hydrated, using a humidifier, drinking warm liquids (but nothing caffeinated), and trying a spoonful of honey to soothe a cough.

There is some evidence to back the idea of honey for a cough. One review of studies found that, when it comes to treating coughing in kids, honey was “probably” better than a placebo and may be no better or worse than dextromethorphan.

Read more: Chicken soup might help your cold feel better – but it’s not a guarantee

Just be sure you never give honey to kids younger than one year old. There’s a slight chance that honey could cause potentially fatal botulism in babies that young, but once they hit age one, their stomach acid is strong enough to eliminate the risk posed by the sweetener, Bernstein explained.

There is still no cure for the common cold. All parents can do is address symptoms while the infection runs its course, which may take some time.

“If kids don’t have a fever and seem to be eating and drinking somewhat well, symptoms from a cold can last up to two weeks,” Bernstein said. “So don’t be rushing to the doctor if it seems like the cold is lingering a little bit.”

And finally, Bernstein stressed that, because the common cold is caused by a virus, not bacteria, antibiotics won’t do anything to help one.

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

Screen time may not be that damaging to your kids’ sleep, despite what you’ve been told

Screen time may not be that damaging to your kids’ sleep, despite what you’ve been told

Screen time may not have a dramatic effect on a child's sleep.

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Screen time may not have a dramatic effect on a child’s sleep.
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Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
  • A new study of thousands of US kids suggests that screen time doesn’t have a drastic effect on sleep.
  • For kids in the study, each hour of screen time correlated with three to eight fewer minutes of sleep per night.
  • The study’s lead author said that other factors, like consistent wake-up times, are more important for quality sleep in kids.

Digital devices are often believed to sap quality sleep, but a new study suggests that may not be the case for kids.

The study, published November 2 in the Journal of Pediatrics, analyzed data from the US 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health. Caregivers of more than 50,000 kids answered questions about the average amount of times their kids slept and the average amount of time the interacted with screens, including computers, phones, TVs, and video games.

The results showed that each hour of screen time a child had during the day was associated with three to eight fewer minutes of sleep per night, depending on age. (Kids in the study spent roughly three hours a day looking at screens.)

Because digital screens are now used by kids of all ages – and because research indicates that 50% to 90% of school-aged kids aren’t sleeping enough – it’s thought that screen time may negatively impact sleep, study author Dr. Andrew Przybylski wrote in the paper’s introduction.

But these findings show that the relationship between sleep and screen use in kids is “extremely modest,” Przybylski, a professor at Oxford University’s Internet Institute, said in a statement about the study. (Though it’s worth noting that the study relied on self-reported data from caregivers, which could be less reliable than actual measurements of screen and sleep time.)

“This suggests we need to look at other variables when it comes to children and their sleep,” he added in the statement. “Focusing on bedtime routines and regular patterns of sleep, such as consistent wake-up times, are much more effective strategies for helping young people sleep than thinking screens themselves play a significant role.”

Screen time may increase the risk of obesity in kids.

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Screen time may increase the risk of obesity in kids.
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vinnstock/Shutterstock

Some experts have noted that not all screen time is inherently bad.

“If a child is alone in their room, looking at stuff online, the assumption is they might be looking at porn or being cyber-bullied,” developmental psychologist Dr. Sue Fletcher-Watson told Business Insider last year. “Actually, you might be having a nice chat with a friend or looking up something for your homework.”

But there may still be some downsides when kids use screens and digital devices.

Screen time may be sedentary time, for example, and excessive screen use may increase the risk of obesity, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP also notes that children who watch lots of TV as infants or preschoolers may “show delays in attention, thinking, language, and social skills,” possibly because they may be interacting less with family members.

In older kids, screen use may put kids at risk for cyberbullying or may negatively their impact school performance, among other potential cons.

Read more: Kids as young as 7 are finding ingenious ways around Apple’s screen time controls

And, new findings aside, the AAP website does say that media use “can interfere with sleep,” possibly because of the blue light emitted by digital devices.

The AAP recommends that screen time other than video chatting “be discouraged” for kids younger than 18 months. The organization says parents of 18- to 24-month-olds may introduce “high quality” programs or apps and recommends using them with children to help them learn, rather than letting them interact with media on their own. For kids ages 2 to 5, the AAP recommends limiting media use to one hour per day. (You can also use the AAP’s Family Media Plan tool to make a custom plan that works for your family.)

“Media and digital devices are an integral part of our world today,” the AAP said in a list of tips for parents published in May 2018. “The benefits of these devices, if used moderately and appropriately, can be great. But, research has shown that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers plays a pivotal and even more important role in promoting children’s learning and healthy development. Keep the face-to-face up front, and don’t let it get lost behind a stream of media and tech.”

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

9 children have died after an virus outbreak in New Jersey — here’s what to know about the illness

9 children have died after an virus outbreak in New Jersey — here’s what to know about the illness

Children in a medical facility have died after being infected with adenovirus.

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Children in a medical facility have died after being infected with adenovirus.
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ArisSu/iStock
  • Nine children have died after an outbreak of adenovirus at a New Jersey health facility.
  • Adenovirus symptoms can range from mild to severe.
  • The children affected by the outbreak had “severely compromised immune systems,” health officials said, putting them at greater risk for serious illness.
  • There’s no specific treatment for adenoviruses, but proper hand washing can help stop the spread.

Nine children have died after an outbreak of adenovirus sickened patients staying at a New Jersey medical facility, CNN reported Monday.

In a statement released Sunday, the New Jersey Department of Health announced there were 25 confirmed cases of adenovirus in “medically fragile” children receiving treatment at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation. Eight of those cases were fatal. A ninth child died on Friday, the statement added, but the Department of Health is still waiting for laboratory confirmation of adenovirus in that individual.

“This is a tragic situation, and our thoughts are with the families who are grieving right now,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in the statement.”We are working every day to ensure all infection control protocols are continuously followed and closely monitoring the situation at the facility.”

Here’s what to know about adenovirus, its symptoms, and the particular strain that’s behind the outbreak in New Jersey.

Adenoviruses can cause a range of symptoms

Adenoviruses are common and can cause a range of illness, including cold-like symptoms, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea, and pink eye, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The illnesses caused by adenoviruses can range from mild all the way to severe. Those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for more severe sickness.

The children affected by the outbreak in New Jersey are “medically fragile” and have “severely compromised immune systems,” according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

There’s no specific treatment for adenovirus, and since most cases are mild, infected people may only need care to address their symptoms, the CDC adds.

The strain in the New Jersey outbreak may be more severe

New Jersey health officials said that the outbreak at the Wanaque Center was caused by a particular strain called adenovirus 7.

“Unfortunately, the particular strain of adenovirus … has been particularly associated with disease in communal living arrangements and can be more severe,” a New Jersey Department of Health Statement said.

On Sunday, officials investigating the facility also “found minor handwashing deficiencies,” the statement added. The investigation is still ongoing.

In a statement provided to TIME on October 23, a spokesperson for the Wanaque Center said it “continues to fully cooperate with these agencies and has sought out their medical guidance with respect to the virus. As a result, facility staff have diligently implemented all available infection control and prevention measures in order to protect the health and safety of the Wanaque Center’s residents.”

The facility will not admit any new residents for the duration of the outbreak, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

Good hand washing can help stop the spread

Wash your hands often with soap and water.

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Wash your hands often with soap and water.
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Shutterstock

Adenoviruses are most commonly spread by close personal contact like shaking hands; coughing or sneezing; and touching a surface that has adenoviruses on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes, according to the CDC.

There is a vaccine to protect against adenovirus strains four and seven, but it’s currently only available for members of the US military. In the past, these two strains have caused severe outbreaks of illness among military recruits.

You can protect yourself against adenoviruses (and other infections) buy not touching your eyes, mouth, or nose with unwashed hands; avoiding contact with sick people; and washing your hands often with soap and water, according to the CDC.

If you get sick, you can help protect others by staying home when possible, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing, avoiding sharing cups and utensils with others, and washing your hands. Just make sure that your handwashing technique is correct for the best protection.

This post has been updated to reflect new information released by the New Jersey Department of Health.

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

More than half of parents in the US think the flu shots cause the flu — here’s why that’s wrong

More than half of parents in the US think the flu shots cause the flu — here’s why that’s wrong

  • A Florida hospital surveyed 700 US parents and found that more than half thought the flu shot caused flu.
  • That’s a myth: The flu shot has no live viruses, so it can’t make you sick.
  • But it takes two weeks for your body to build up flu-fighting antibodies after you get the shot, so you may get sick during that time period.

It seems some parents still believe the popular myth that getting a flu shot cause the flu.

Florida’s Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children conducted a national survey of 700 parents and found that more than half still believed their child could contract the flu by getting vaccinated, the Orlando Sentinel reported on Tuesday.

But the flu shot does not contain live viruses, and it cannot make you sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains.

It is possible to get sick shortly after you get the vaccine, but not because of the shot.

“After receiving the shot, it takes your body about two weeks to build up antibodies to fight the flu, so if you come in contact with the virus during that time, you may still get sick, which is why you should get your flu shot as early as possible,” pediatrician Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, said in a statement about the survey.

It’s also possible that you’ll encounter a different type of virus, like ones that cause the common cold, right after getting the flu shot.

“We’re giving [the shot] in the fall – that’s when people start to get colds and acute bronchitis and things of that sort,” Dr. Malcolm Thaler, of New York City’s One Medical, previously told INSIDER. “People like to make associations between fall illnesses and getting the flu shot and it’s just incorrect.”

It’s worth noting that some people do have mild reactions to the flu shot, including low-grade fever, headache, and muscle aches, the CDC says. But those reactions don’t mean the flu shot made you sick.

“It can make your arm a little bit sore, but beyond that [you might] just feel a little off for about 24 hours – a little achy and not quite right,” Thaler said. “That’s just your immune system getting charged up.”

Besides, these common reactions to flu shots are “considerably less severe” than the symptoms of actual flu, the CDC website adds. Remember that the flu may cause serious complications and can even be deadly. An estimated 80,000 Americans died from the flu last winter, and 180 of those deaths occurred in children.

The CDC recommends that everyone age six months and older get the flu shot, preferably by the end of October. (People who are allergic to components of the vaccine should not get vaccinated.)

Not sure where to get a flu shot? Use this tool from the CDC to find a location in your zip code.

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

People in 16 states have come down with a rare polio-like illness this year — here’s what to know about it

People in 16 states have come down with a rare polio-like illness this year — here’s what to know about it

Kids in several states have gotten sick with an illness that may cause paralysis.

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Kids in several states have gotten sick with an illness that may cause paralysis.
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picture/iStock
  • People in 16 states have come down with a rare illness called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) this year, and most cases occur in kids.
  • AFM may lead to paralysis and, very rarely, death.
  • The signs of AFM include sudden arm or leg weakness, drooping eyelids, facial weakness or drooping, difficulty swallowing, or slurred speech.
  • Anyone displaying those signs should get medical help right away.

On October 4, health officials in Minnesota announced that six children have contracted acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare illness that can cause paralysis, since September 20. Typically, the state sees only one case per year at most.

But Minnesota isn’t the only place where kids are coming down with the condition. On Tuesday, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh announced it was caring for three children with suspected AFM. Colorado health officials said in a statement there have been 14 cases of AFM in the state this year. And nine cases of AFM have been reported in northern Illinois since mid-September, the state’s department of public health has said.

From January through September of 2018, there have been 38 confirmed cases of AFM across 16 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and that number may rise given recent cases reported in the news.

This is actually part of a larger trend. The CDC has been investigating an increase in AFM cases that began back in August 2014, but doesn’t know it’s happening. Most of the 362 cases so far have been in children.

The illness truly is rare – one Minnesota health official told CBS News kids have “about one in a million” chance of getting it – but it is crucial that any child displaying the signs get medical attention right away, the CDC says.

INSIDER spoke with pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert to learn more about AFM and its telltale symptoms. Here’s what you need to know.

The causes of AFM are still unclear

AFM affects the nervous system, particularly the spinal cord, causing muscles and reflexes across the body to become weak, the CDC explains. It’s often described as “polio-like” because polio also affects the nervous system, causing neurological changes, Burgert said.

AFM can happen in adults but tends to be more common in kids, she added. But the cause of the disease still isn’t known.

“That’s why it’s so scary,” Burgert said. “This is a potentially life-threatening illness and we don’t know the cause, and if we don’t know the cause, we can’t predict it.”

But it’s thought that AFM may be a communicable disease.

“Because there does seem to be a seasonal pattern and it does seem to happen in clusters, that makes us lean towards it being a communicable disease or an infectious disease,” Burgert added.

The CDC says that certain viruses – including the polio virus, enteroviruses, adenoviruses, and West Nile Virus – may cause AFM or conditions that are extremely similar to AFM.

But so far, after testing many AFM patients, the CDC has not been able to find any consistent evidence of viruses or other pathogens that appear to cause the disease. It’s possible that environmental toxins or genetics play a role, too.

Anyone with AFM symptoms should see a doctor ASAP

Most people with AFM will experience sudden arm or leg weakness with a loss of reflexes and muscle tone, according to the CDC. Some people may also have facial drooping and weakness, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, and slurred speech.

These signs may be a little harder to spot in young children, Burgert said, since they aren’t always able to articulate their symptoms.

“Since we know that this disease involves loss of muscle tone, I’m watching how [kids] are walking, how they’re drawing, how they’re using their utensils. For example, if they’re right-handed and now they’re only using their left arm, that’s going to be a huge red flag,” she said. “I would also look at their smile. A kid’s smile should always be symmetric.”

AFM symptoms include drooping eyelids, facial drooping, slurred speech, and sudden limb weakness.

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AFM symptoms include drooping eyelids, facial drooping, slurred speech, and sudden limb weakness.
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CDC

The most serious symptom of ADM is respiratory failure, the CDC says, which can happen when the muscles you use to breath become weakened. This is what makes AFM a potentially deadly disease, Burgert said.

But she stressed that breathing difficulties won’t be the first sign of AFM. The initial symptoms like limb and facial weakness do come on suddenly, but it takes some time for the disease to progress to the point where it affects breathing.

“Any astute parent with an appropriate level of concern will be able to reach hospitals and clinics for evaluation before that would happen,” Burgert said. “It’s not like they’re going to stop breathing in the middle of the night [because of AFM]. We just have to be attuned to the first signs.”

Finally, most recent reports have shown that AFM seems to happen two to three weeks after a child has a viral illness like a cold or flu, Burgert explained. But that doesn’t mean every kid who gets temporarily sick will end up with AFM.

“It’s important to know that this is still very rare and that the vast, vast majority of kids are going to have these normal cold and flu viruses with no complications,” she said.

There’s no specific treatment, but people with AFM can get supportive care in the hospital

The polio vaccine may help prevent AFM, according to the CDC.

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The polio vaccine may help prevent AFM, according to the CDC.
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Komsan Loonprom/Shutterstock

There’s no specific treatment for AFM, according to the CDC.

“It’s not something you can go to a hospital and get a medicine for right now,” Burgert said.

Instead, she explained, people with AFM get supportive care in the hospital. Doctors will monitor their bodily functions, for example, and make sure patients who need breathing assistance get it. This care continues until the body starts to fight the infection on its own, Burgert said. After that, it’s a matter of recovery.

Since AFM attacks the neurons in the spinal cord, affecting neurological function, recovery from the condition is an attempt to regain that compromised function, Burgert explained.

“For kids that’s less of a worry,” she said. “Kids are so malleable, and kids with amazing neurological deficits can still regain that function as their brain and nervous system are growing and changing. In adults, when we have a neurological injury, it’s a lot harder to repair.”

Recovery interventions may vary on a case-by-case basis, the CDC explains. For example, some doctors may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help a patient recover from arm or leg weakness. Unfortunately, we still don’t know the long-term health outcomes for people who get AFM.

And because experts still don’t know the causes of AFM, it’s not exactly clear how to prevent it, either. But there are some steps that could help.

The CDC says that both polio virus and the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus may lead to AFM. The polio vaccine will protect kids against polio, of course, and to avoid mosquito bites, you can use insect repellent, stay inside at dusk and dawn when it’s more common to get bitten, and remove any standing water near your home, since mosquitoes can breed in it.

The CDC also recommends frequent hand washing with soap and water. Though it’s not known if hand washing can prevent AFM, it’ still a proven way to reduce the spread of germs between people.

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

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