8 common child health myths busted

Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving.

Meaghan_OKeeffe_1From fever to flu to vaccines and enterovirus, there’s so much health information out there. It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. Some commonly circulating health myths might confuse even the most well-intentioned parent. Sort out the truth from the myth, and you’re on your way to making the best, informed health care decisions for your child.

Myth: Kids don’t need the flu vaccine.

Fact: Children, especially those under 5, commonly need medical care due to the influenza virus. This year may be especially important. As we stay vigilant for cases of , which is proving to be a particularly nasty respiratory virus, the flu has the potential to worsen the problem should your child become infected with both.

While vaccination remains a personal decision, deciding whether or not to vaccinate your child deserves a lot of thought. Read more from the American Academy of Pediatrics to get answers about vaccine safety. The nursing and medical communities widely recommend routine vaccinations for public health safety and the safety of your child.

Myth: Medicine should be given at the first sign of fever.

Fact: It can be scary when your child develops a fever. It’s a natural reaction to want to fix it with medication. But keep in mind that fevers are typically the body’s natural mechanism for fighting infection. However, if your child is uncomfortable, a medication such as acetaminophen may help reduce any fever with associated aches and pains. Check your child’s temperature regularly and call your pediatrician if your child’s temperature exceeds 102°F. She can recommend the best approach. 

Myth: My child has bronchitis; she needs antibiotics.

Fact:  is most often caused by a viral infection. Antibiotics are not effective in the treatment of viruses. Typically, an upper respiratory infection (the common cold) causes irritation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. This irritation promotes swelling and mucous, which makes the infected person cough. It’s not unusual for a cough to last up to two weeks, and in some cases, up to eight weeks. Other viruses that are most associated with bronchitis are respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and parainfluenza.

Myth: Over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines are OK to use.

Fact: Not only are OTC cough medicines not considered safe for young children, they’re not very effective either. It’s also important to stay wary of combination drugs that typically have multiple active ingredients, some of which your child may not need.

Looking for an alternative that works? Research shows that  is more effective for kids than OTC cough medications at thinning mucous secretions and easing a nighttime cough. However, honey is not recommended for children under 1 year old due to the risk of contracting botulism. Other comfort measures include warm fluids to thin secretions, warm mist from a shower to help ease coughing fits and the use of a humidifier to add moisture to the air. These interventions will make it easier for your child to clear thick airway secretions and soothe inflamed airways.

Myth: My child can stop her antibiotics once her symptoms are gone.

Fact: Even when your child feels better, it is essential to complete the full course of antibiotics prescribed by your health care provider. Stopping antibiotics early runs the risk of not killing all of the bacteria, leaving the stronger bacteria still lingering, ready to potentially wreak havoc again. The only time you should stop an antibiotic early is if your child develops an allergic reaction. Notify your provider immediately so that she can evaluate the allergy and prescribe an alternative.

It’s also never a good idea to give unused antibiotics to another person for an infection. Different antibiotics are prescribed for different bacteria. Giving the wrong one could not only be ineffective, but also cause harm.

Myth: Asthma medications are only needed during an asthma flare-up.

Fact: It’s true that rescue inhalers (typically albuterol) are designed to decrease inflammation and provide immediate relief during an asthma flare-up. However, it’s also true that most asthma medications are meant to control and prevent chronic inflammation, managing the overall underlying condition. These medications require consistent dosing to be effective. They will not help your child get immediate relief during an asthma attack. It’s important to review your child’s asthma regimen with your pediatrician or a pediatric nurse.

Myth: Diet drinks are fine because they don’t have excess calories.

Fact: Artificially sweetened drinks are actually associated with an increased body mass index (BMI). The explanation for that remains a bit elusive. It’s possible that exposure to a highly sweet taste leads to cravings, hunger and increased food intake. Another research theory says that aspartate, a common ingredient in diet drinks, damages neurons in the , the area of the brain that regulates food intake. Or is the answer simply that individuals with a higher BMI are often trying to diet, making the artificially sweetened drink association just that: an association? 

Science doesn’t really know. But we do know that limiting sugary drinks and diet drinks for kids is the healthiest approach. Keep pushing that water.

Myth: Sleep apnea only affects adults.

Fact: Sleep apnea isn’t an adults-only condition. Somewhere between 2-5 percent of children, from infants to adolescents, suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

OSA is caused by a blockage in the upper airway and is associated with snoring, gasping and noisy breathing during sleep. Untreated OSA is linked with hyperactivity, irritability and fatigue. If you suspect your child has OSA, having her evaluated is the first step toward helping her get a good night’s sleep.