The pharmacy is often the first point of call for parents when it comes to identifying common complaints which present in children
Many minor ailments, such as the common cold and fever, can be treated quickly and conveniently with over-the-counter medicines available in community pharmacies.
It’s normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year. This is because there are hundreds of different cold viruses and young children have no immunity to any of them as they’ve never had them before. Gradually they build up immunity and get fewer colds.
Most colds get better in five to seven days. Here are some suggestions on advice to offers parents about how to ease the symptoms in a child:
• Increase the amount of fluid the child normally drinks.
• Saline nose drops can help loosen dried nasal secretions and relieve a stuffy nose. There are many of these to choose from such as Nasosal and Sterimar.
• If a child has a fever, pain or discomfort, paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. Encourage the whole family to wash their hands regularly to stop the cold spreading.
• Nasal decongestants can make stuffiness worse. Never use them for more than two or three days and not in children under the age of 12.
Most pharmacists have been confronted by a parent whose child has an apparent ear infection, usually otitis media. The parent understandably wants to relieve the child’s pain. Pharmacists and their teams should understand various facts about the condition in order to answer the parent’s questions.
Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear and can be further classified into 3 forms according to symptoms and degrees of severity. These include acute otitis media (AOM), otitis media with effusion (OME), and chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM).
Ear infections are common in babies and small children. They often follow a cold and sometimes cause a temperature. A child may pull or rub at an ear, but babies can’t always tell where pain is coming from and may just cry and seem uncomfortable.
If a child has earache but is otherwise well, advise paracetamol or ibuprofen for 12-24 hours. Parent should not put any oil, eardrops or cotton buds into the child’s ear. In general any pain in the ear indicates the possibility of an infection and parents should see their GP who may give a prescription for ear drops to reduce the inflammation and pain. Most ear infections are caused by viruses, which can’t be treated with antibiotics. They will just get better by themselves.
After an ear infection a child may have a problem hearing for two to six weeks. If the problem lasts for any longer than this, refer to their GP.
Children can be affected by hay fever symptoms as a result of pollen spread well into the autumn season. Children with hay fever typically present to the pharmacy with itchy and watery eyes as well as a blocked nose. Pharmacists should be able to distinguish between a common cold and an allergy by offering an allergy test which will also help them to treat the symptoms effectively. If the child does have hay fever, pharmacists can recommend antihistamines to help alleviate the sneezing, runny nose and eye irritation.
If a GP has confirmed that a child has eczema, a pharmacist can provide treatment advice. It is important you assess the child’s skin and investigate the patient history and previously used treatments. Emollients can be recommended which should be applied generously at least three times a day. You can offer emollients over the counter but do make parents aware of the emollient ranges that are available on prescription. An eczema tracker (a diary the parents complete at home) can be useful.
Sore throat (also called pharyngitis) is typically caused by a viral or bacterial infection. An estimated 200 to 300 different strains of virus cause colds and sore throat.1 In up to 90% of cases, sore throat is caused by viruses linked to the common cold or flu. The other 10% of cases result from bacterial infections or some other medical condition. The bacteria that most commonly cause sore throat are streptococci. Infection with streptococcal bacteria is commonly called strep throat.
Sore throats are often caused by viral illnesses such as colds or flu. A child’s throat may be dry and sore for a day or two before a cold starts. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be given to reduce the pain.
Most sore throats clear up after a few days. If a child has a sore throat for more than four days, has a high temperature and is generally unwell, or is unable to swallow fluids or saliva, refer to their GP.
Children under the age of 6, and particularly under age 2, are at an especially high risk during cold and flu season. Whilst it is known that antibiotics won’t help when it comes to clearing up an infection, there are steps pharmacists can advise parents to take to help their child feel better while their immune system battles the virus.
Advise on keeping the child hydrated to help reduce cold and flu symptoms and make them feel better. Fevers can result in dehydration. Children suffering with the cold or flu may not feel as thirsty as they normally would, and they may be uncomfortable when drinking, so it’s important to encourage them to drink plenty of fluids.
Medicated nasal sprays aren’t recommended for young children. Fortunately, there are several easy ways to clear up a stuffy nose without medication.
Use a cool-mist humidifier in the child’s room. This will help break up mucus. Another option is using a saline nasal spray or drops, which makes thin mucus easier to blow out or remove with a bulb syringe. This is especially helpful before feeding and bedtime.