It's no secret that children suffer more coughs, sniffles and fevers than adults. However, the course of action for parents when they find themselves forced into the role of nurse is not always clear.
Assessing the suitability of medications is one of the biggest challenges and there are risks.
Usually it's difficult for parents to gauge the type and severity of their child's illness, says the Federal Association of German Apothecary Groups (ABDA) in Berlin. That means parents should always consult a doctor or pharmacist before treating a child themselves.
"Children are not small adults," says Christina Jaeger, a Bremen-based pharmacist. Parents should never give children smaller doses of medications for adult as they cannot handle all drugs and will respond differently.
Even homeopathic drugs are not without dangers. Essential oils like menthol or camphor might stop an adult's sniffles, but they can arrest children's breathing. Jaeger recommends treating children two to three times a day with an isotonic salt solution instead.
Still, there is room for homeopathic medicine when treating children because it can be much milder, says Margit Schlenk, a pharmacist from Nuremberg. Plant-based medicines combined with regular medication can help speed healing and lessen side effects.
Proper use of plant-based medicines and household remedies can often prevent a doctor's visit, says Bernd Simon, a paediatrician from Munich. An onion poultice for example can alleviate earaches. Throat or chest poultices or special teas for coughing are effective for sore throats and fever, adds Jaeger.
As a rule of thumb, always consult your doctor first if an illness lingers more than two days. In cases of regular vomiting or diarrhoea, Simon advises going to a doctor within 24 hours. Excruciating pain should send you heading to a doctor immediately.
Medication should be adjusted for the child.
"Children do not like the taste of many medications or they can cause pain," says Matthias Schneider, a pharmacist from Dillingen. Sweet juices or drops are easier to swallow than tablets or capsules and can be dosed properly, making them ideal, he says. If swallowing is a problem, for example due to bad bouts of coughing, enemas and suppositories are other options.
When using salves and creams, it's important to remember that a child's skin surface is relative to their weight. That means creams should be applied thinly.