Conquering Those Growing Pains
It's a tip that parents pass along as if it were an heirloom christening gown: Give your baby a dose of Benadryl, and she'll drop off to sleep like an angel.
That would be great if true, says Dan Merenstein, an assistant professor of family medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. As a father of three kids under age 7, he's well aware of the confusion caused by the welter of expert advice, from pediatrician Richard Ferber's "cry it out" method to pediatrician William Sears's "cosleeping," in which the baby sleeps in the parents' bed. As a scientist, Merenstein says, "I realize they're all different because there's no science."
Indeed, almost no research has been done on sleep medication and young children. Despite that, 71 percent of families told one researcher they had given children medication to try to make them sleep. In a study in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Merenstein recruited 44 families with healthy babies and asked half of them to give their children a dose of Benadryl, a widely used over-the-counter antihistamine, before bedtime. Benadryl is well known for its sedative effects-it's the same ingredient as in Tylenol PM. Merenstein expected to see a marked improvement in sleep problems. Instead, just one family in the Benadryl group reported better sleep, compared with three in the placebo group. "I was surprised," says Merenstein.
Benadryl may work better as a sleep inducer in older children, Merenstein speculates. But its lack of effect on infants proves once again that children are not tiny adults and that parents and doctors should never presume that what's good medicine for Dad will work for Junior, too.
Time and tenderness may treat that scary cough
That tried-and-true remedy for croup-the steamed-up bathroom-probably won't do your child's airways any good. In March, doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children tested 140 kids with croup, a barking cough caused by viruses that inflame and narrow the airways. Their conclusion: The humidity didn't have any physical effect. "People may say it is steam, but it's really time," says study director Dennis Scolnik, a pediatrics associate professor at the University of Toronto. Indeed, the treatment's value may be that it gives parents something to do and calms them down, which calms the child down, too. "I'm sure there's a psychological element to it," says Paul Little, a professor at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom who has also studied humidity treatment. "It seems to be soothing."
So what should you do for kids with the croup? "Cuddle them, stroke them, hold them, sing them a song," says Scolnik. And model deep, slow breaths.A walk outside in the cool air may also be beneficial. If the cough doesn't go away in 20 to 30 minutes, or if the child seems to have difficulty breathing or looks unaware, a trip to the hospital is in order.
Hear this, Mom: Watchful waiting may be the best strategy
There's a new way to treat ear infections: not at all. In the past, children had ear tubes implanted to ventilate the ear, and in recent years, most infections have been treated with antibiotics. Now, however, a growing pile of research is showing that in many cases it might be better to wait to see if the child's infection resolves itself.