Q: In church last Sunday, I noticed that the infant next to us slept throughout the entire service. When I commented to the child's mother how great it was that he was quiet during the service, she proudly said she gave him a drugstore cold medicine. She said it works like a charm. Is it safe?
A: Let us say at the outset that we would not recommend using medication to control infant behavior in church. In fact, we're hard-pressed to think of any occasion, except for a necessary medical procedure, when a child should be artificially sedated.
We assume that the mother meant an over-the-counter medication. Those can be bought without a prescription.
As you know if you follow television advertisements, they may contain a decongestant, an antihistamine and something to suppress cough. To make the drugs into a liquid for children, the manufacturer may add alcohol. One or more of the ingredients may cause drowsiness. But you can't rely on it! Children may become overly excited instead.
All medications have side effects. Occasionally even common medicines cause uncommon serious side effects.
It does not make sense to us to use a medicine, even an over-the-counter medicine, with any risk at all of causing unwanted side effects when no medicine is needed.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.