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How to Stock Your Medicine Cabinet Like a Pediatrician

All the essentials for kid-related bumps, bruises, and sniffles.

8 min read
2023-12-07
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The information supplied in this article is based on the pediatrician’s own opinions and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice. Those who need a licensed healthcare provider should contact a qualified professional directly.

*This article includes mentions of merchants or brands who are partners of DoorDash, and DoorDash may receive a commission if you choose to make a purchase from these merchants or brands. 

Before Dr. Krupa Playforth was officially The Pediatrician Mom, she was a pediatrician — not to mention, a mom! When the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our lives, she saw parents scrambling for information and answers. Dr. Playforth was pregnant with her third child and burned out from juggling work and motherhood during a pandemic. “Parents were freaking out,” she remembers. “Should kids go to school? Should they have playdates? There was so much misinformation and confusion.”

That’s when Dr. Playforth joined Instagram for the first time, setting up @thepediatricianmom. “Parents need practical information,” says Dr. Playforth. “In 15 minutes, no pediatrician can give you everything you need.” Since then, her mission has been to arm parents with factual, practical advice to help navigate the very windy road that is parenthood.  

“I am passionate about sharing not just evidence-based information, but also reality,” Dr. Playforth explains. “Parenting can be isolating and humbling and messy, but it is also deeply and uniquely rewarding.”

Here’s what Dr. Playforth keeps in her home for when her own kids inevitably have a scraped knee or a stuffy nose.

The Sniffles

“The standard in my house is steamy showers and saline spray,” says Dr. Playforth. “For the little ones, I like nasal suction,” which manually or electrically sucks out mucus. She uses the Snotsucker from NoseFrida, but any brand will do the trick. For tender little noses, she recommends Boogie Wipes, which are made with saline and gentler than tissues. If your kid is really stuffed up, Dr. Playforth suggests, “a handheld nebulizer with normal saline can break up congestion right before bed.”

A Cough

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“Coughing can be due to congestion,” says Dr. Playforth, so the sniffles tactics will probably be helpful here, too. If your kid is over a year old, Dr. Playforth recommends giving them honey. (Honey is not safe for those under 12 months old.) “There is good data that honey decreases severity and frequency of cough and helps with a common cold,” she says. Mix it into water or milk, or give it to your little one straight from the spoon.  

Sore Throat

“Get your child comfortable first,” Dr. Playforth suggests. Sore throats can impact hydration, since kids won’t want to eat and drink with a painful throat. Try “cool foods, smoothies, yogurt, milkshakes, and popsicles,” Dr. Playforth says. Salt water gargles are great, but Dr. Playforth knows that’s a tough ask for most kids. If it’s strep throat, you’ll get antibiotics, but sore throats are often viral, which means there are no great treatments. Administer ibuprofen or painkillers as needed.  

A Fever

Dr. Playforth told me that many parents get super worried about a fever, but that the “focus should be on kids’ comfort if they seem generally okay and don’t have any underlying conditions, like being really young or immunocompromised.” Get them cozy and get them lots of liquids to drink. “Hydration is the most important thing when kids are sick,” says Dr. Playforth. 

Good old water and Pedialyte Electrolyte Solution Drinks are go-tos, but at the end of the day, “the priority is getting fluid, and it doesn’t matter so much what the fluid is.” Dr. Playforth uses apple juice (diluted at half strength works), popsicles, and broth. Applesauce and yogurt are also great, as are milk, milkshakes, and smoothies. Contrary to what you may have heard, Dr. Playforth says that milk does not increase a body’s production of phlegm. (This was news to me!) 

A Trip, Fall, or Bump

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The devil is in the details. When I was a kid, my mom would treat a booboo with Neosporin or hydrogen peroxide, but Dr. Playforth says new data shows the best line of defense is “old-fashioned soap and water.” 

“Peri bottles give you a good amount of squirt to irrigate dirty wounds,” Dr. Playforth advises. “Keep it clean and moist. You don’t need a Band-Aid unless a wound will open up, or your kid will pick at it, or your kid just loves Band-Aids, as mine do.”  And if you notice signs of infection, call the pediatrician. 

Constipation

Dr. Playforth says there are certain times a child’s gut adjusts to big changes, like when they first start solid foods, or when they begin school and eat and drink in a new context. “For mild constipation, decrease simple carbs and increase fiber,” Dr. Playforth explains. She suggests the “p foods — peaches, pears, plums, prunes — pear juice is tasty and especially great for kids.” Dr. Playforth recommends a varied, fiber-rich diet, which she understands can be a tall order for picky little ones. If the problem is ongoing, definitely consult with your kids’ doctor.

Watery, Irritated Eyes

It depends on the cause. If it’s aggravated by dust, pollution, or cigarette smoke exposure, allergies might be cropping up, in which case children’s allergy meds can help. If it’s pink eye, it might be bacterial or viral. Antibiotics will be prescribed for the former. For the latter, “ride it out with supportive care and warm compresses to wipe eyes,” advises Dr. Playforth.

General Achiness

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Dr. Playforth recommends warm baths, heating pads (“obviously not too hot”), TLC, and screen time. Pain medicine can be used as needed — she suggests medicine as “a useful tool in your kit, but not the first tool to grab.” And, as for everything, plenty of snuggles.

Bug Bites

“People get freaked out because kids have huge, exaggerated reactions” to bug bites, Dr. Playforth notices. She starts with a simple ice pack, colloidal oatmeal, and topical cortisone or calamine lotion. She also likes The Bug Bite Thing, a suction tool that painlessly and effectively extracts insect saliva or venom from under the skin. If meds are needed, she uses allergy medication like Zyrtec or Claritin, and recommends consulting with your pediatrician to make sure the dosing is right.

Not feeling well? Check out these tips from pediatricians Dr. Julia Blank and Dr. Flora Sinha.