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By Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg

As a pediatrician, the most common confession I hear from parents is that they are scared of making a horrible mistake when it comes to their child’s health. The Smart Parent’s Guide gives parents my insider’s tips and strategies to avoid common blunders in the all-night pharmacy, the emergency room, the hospital ward, and any other medical hot spot. Here are seven key things that you can do to protect your child’s health, and maybe even save their life:

Use fear to your advantage.

Treat fear as a signal that you need to know more. A little fear is a good thing — it makes you question the situation and seek out answers. You don’t have to go to medical school to be smart about your kid’s health, but you do need to know how to be an effective advocate for your child. By learning which questions to ask (my book is full of them — here’s a sample), you’ll be able to make well-informed decisions based on scientific evidence.

Never give your child any kind of aspirin (not even baby aspirin, which is not for babies).

I cannot stress this enough. Aspirin can cause Reye’s syndrome, which can affect all organs of the body and may be fatal. Many of you might remember taking baby aspirin when you were kids, but that was before anyone knew better. Let me repeat: Baby aspirin is not for babies or kids under 16. (Test your knowledge on the use of other children’s meds with this quick quiz.)

Don’t buy over-the-counter medicines that promise “multi-symptom relief.”

Here’s why:

* If you use a multi-symptom product, you’ll likely give your child medicines he doesn’t need.

* I’ve found that multi-ingredient products often undertreat fever or pain or overdo the decongestant, which makes the child jittery. Not good.

* Many “multi” products contain acetaminophen, but if you don’t realize that and give your child an additional dose of Tylenol (acetaminophen), you risk an overdose. Read labels!

Avoid decongestants.

They are usually given for a stuffy nose, but they contain ingredients that can actually make your child agitated, irritable, unable to sleep, and could cause a dangerously rapid heart beat. Instead, try saline nose drops before bedtime, or use a cool-mist humidifier or a warm bath or shower to help your child breathe easier during the night. (Check out which kids’ remedies I always have in my medicine cabinet.)

Have your child’s lead levels screened.

Get vaccinated.

Every day, parents ask me if they should be worried about vaccinations, and I unequivocally say yes, they should be worried, but only if their child misses a scheduled vaccination. Vaccinations are critical to good health. Unfortunately, childhood vaccinations have become a controversial topic among the general public in the last two decades. Most of the controversy centers on the unfounded fear that vaccinations (especially the combined measles/mumps/rubella vaccine, or MMR) are linked to autism or other neurodevelopment disorders. No causal link has ever been found.

Speak Up.

You can’t be a silent bystander at any point in the care of your child. If you’re the shy, passive type, you need to go through a major personality change while your child is hospitalized. You are your child’s advocate, and you need to take charge and communicate effectively with the hospital staff. You can’t be afraid to ask questions or point out things that seem amiss. To encourage patients and their families to do this, the Joint Commission has a campaign based upon two words. You guessed it: Speak up. This patient-safety campaign is aimed at giving patients and their caregivers the muscle to prevent infection and medical errors.


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