Children’s Medicine: Key Words to Know

When your child is under the weather, you’re most likely the primary caregiver. But when your little one looks to you for help with aches and pains, are you prepared for the job?

It can be overwhelming to navigate drugstore aisles filled with over-the-counter medications for children. To help you make sense of medication options, here are some words to know.

Acetaminophen – a drug (sold under the brand name Tylenol) used to relieve pain and reduce fever. Acetaminophen is often used to alleviate head and body aches, fever, and pain from minor injuries.

Aspirin – a pain reducer, also known as acetylsalicylate or acetylsalicylic acid. Aspirin or products containing aspirin should never be given to children younger than age 19 when they have a fever or are fighting a virus (including a cold, the flu, or chickenpox). Aspirin given to children during these times is linked to the development of a serious condition called Reye syndrome.

Antibiotic – medications prescribed by your health care provider to treat specific bacterial infections like strep throat or ear infections. Antibiotics do not help fight viral infections.

Antibiotic ointment – an over-the-counter medication (such as Neosporin) used to prevent or control infection in cuts, scrapes, and wounds.

Antihistamine – a drug (such as Benadryl or Claritin) that helps stop runny noses, sneezing, and itchy eyes. Antihistamines are often found in cold and allergy medicines and can also help stop itching from chickenpox, insect bites, and other rashes.

Antitussive – also called cough suppressants, antitussives (such as dextromethorphan) are medications to help quiet a cough by blocking the cough reflex.

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Controller medication – a type of long-acting medication that helps keep asthma under control. Controller medication is taken regularly and works to reduce airway inflammation and keep symptoms from occurring. It should not be used to relieve acute episodes of bronchospasm (see “rescue medication” below).

Decongestant – a drug (such as PediaCare) that helps unclog a stuffy nose caused by a cold or flu virus, sinusitis, or allergies.

Expectorant – a type of cough medicine that helps thin mucus so users can cough and clear the mucus from the airway.

Hydrocortisone – a medicine (such as Cortaid) that comes in cream or ointment form that helps reduce itching from bug bites, skin rashes, and eczema.

Ibuprofen – a type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (such as Advil or Motrin) that helps relieve pain and reduce fever. It also reduces inflammation. Like acetaminophen, ibuprofen is often used to treat headache, body aches, fever, and pain from minor injuries.

Laxative – a medicine that can provide relief from constipation (such as Miralax).

Rescue medication – also called quick-relief medication, rescue medications help immediately stop asthma symptoms when they occur. They are often inhaled directly into the lungs to open the airways, and quickly relieve wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

If you have questions while shopping for medicine, ask your pharmacist to guide you to the right medication and dosage to best treat your child’s symptoms. /Source:

Medical References

  1. Cough Medicine: Understanding Your OTC Options. American Academy of Family Physicians.…
  2. Decongestants: OTC Relief for Congestion. American Academy of Family Physicians.…
  3. Pain Relievers: Understanding Your OTC Options. American Academy of Family Physicians.…
  4. DIACARE CHILDRENS DECONGESTANT (phenylephrine hcl) liquid. DailyMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  5. MIRALAX (polyethylene glycol 3350) powder, for solution. DailyMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  6. Asthma Treatment. American Academy of Family Physicians.
  7. Antibiotic Prescriptions for Children: 10 Common Questions Answered. American Academy of Pediatrics.…
  8. Common Over-the-Counter Medications. American Academy of Pediatrics.…
  9. What is the Role of Aspirin in Triggering Reye’s? National Reye’s Syndrome Foundation.


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