Picture the Mission Impossible theme song in your head… da da da DUM DUM da da da DUM DUM dadada…dadada…dadada…DA DA! Keep this background music playing as you read.

Recently, Two Peds in a Pod went undercover as two unsuspecting moms surveying the scene on the shelves of a local chain pharmacy, seeking to uncover what medicines, ointments, and therapies avail themselves to the unsuspecting consumer. Today we break open the case.

All medication labels have an “active ingredient” list. This list contains the actual medicine that acts on your child’s body to hide symptoms or cure a condition.  Read this list carefully so that you know what you are actually giving your child. For example, Flu-Be-Gone claims it “cures the aches and cough of flu and helps your child sleep better.” In order to know just what is actually in Flu-Be-Gone, you need to read the active ingredients. Included might be acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol), a fever reducer and pain reliever, and diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl), allergy medicine that has the common side effect of causing drowsiness and has some mild anti-cough properties. Notice neither active ingredient actually kills the flu germ. Additionally, you may already have these two medications in your medicine cabinet, or you might have already given your child diphenhydramine recently and giving Flu-Be-Gone would overdose your child. 

Also note, diphenhydramine is everywhere. If you see the word “sleep” or “PM” in the name of a product, you will usually find diphenhydramine in the active ingredient list. 

Now, let’s hone in on your choices for the anti-itch therapy, hydrocortisone. When your child’s health care provider advises treating an itchy bug bite, poison ivy, or allergic rash with hydrocortisone, make sure that the ACTIVE INGREDIENT in the product is “hydrocortisone 1%.” Hydrocortisone comes as a cream, ointment, spray, or stick (looks like a glue stick) and can have aloe, menthol, or other ingredients thrown in as well. Don’t bother with anything less than maximum strength. Regular strength is 0.5% and is generally ineffective.  Also, keep in mind that while ointment is absorbed a bit better, it is more greasy/messy than cream.

Don’t be fooled into thinking products with the same brand name contain similar active ingredients. 
Also, do not depend on your doctor to necessarily know the difference between the all the formulations.We noticed that the same brand name pain reliever, such as Midol, can have different active ingredients depending on which one you choose. Midol Teen contains acetaminophen, Midol liquid gels contains ibuprofen,  and Midol PM contains acetaminophen and diphenhydramine.

Let’s talk bellyache. Did you know that kids should not take adult pepto bismol because it has a form of aspirin in it? Aspirin may cause Reye’s syndrome, a fatal liver disorder. However, we did see a product called Children’s Pepto Bismol and guess what the active ingredient is? It is calcium carbonate, which is the SAME active ingredient as in Tums, and is safe to give kids. However, watch your wallet: the children’s pepto bismol that we found cost $6.00 for a box of 24 tablets. The TUMS that we found cost $4.50 for a bottle of 150 tablets of the same stuff, just in slightly higher dose. Check with your child’s doctor but in most cases, the kids can take the adult dose.

Also, be aware that cold and cough medicine have not been shown to treat colds successfully or even to actually relieve symptoms in most kids. In fact these medicines have potential for harmful side effects, accidental overdose, or accidental ingestion and are just not worth giving your children. However, we found tons of cold and cough medicines marketed for children. Here are the three most commonly used active ingredients:

  • If you see “suppressant” you will likely find “dextromethoraphan” in the active ingredient list.
  • If you see “expectorant” you will likely find “guaifenesin” in the active ingredient list.
  • If you see “decongestant” you will likely find “phenylephrine” in the active ingredient list.

Many products combine two or all three of the above. We ask, even if these ingredients did work well in kids and were not potentially dangerous, what is the POINT of combining a cough suppressant with an expectorant? Can you really have it both ways?

( Remember, that Mission Impossible theme is still playing in the background.)

A few other tidbits. “Dramamine,” used for motion sickness, gets broken down in the body to diphenhydramine, that allergy medicine that we already talked about. So look at cost differences when choosing a motion sickness medicine. Both have the same side effect: sleepiness.

Many cough drops contain corn syrup and sugar. This is the same stuff lollipops are made of, so just call a candy a candy and keep your child’s throat wet with the cheaper choice, if you choose to do so.

Finally, we found one “natural children’s cough medicine” which claimed that it is superior because of its “all natural ingredients.” The first active ingredient listed? Belladonna. Sure it’s natural because it comes from a plant. So does marijuana. Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe. Belladonna can cause delirium, hallucinations, and death and in fact has been used in high doses as a poison! Leave the cough medicine on the store shelf, and read our post about other ways to soothe a cough.

Bottom line:  remember always to check the “active ingredient” list when buying any over-the-counter medication for your children.

As we were wrapping up our mission, one of the pharmacy employees came over to us, raised an eyebrow at our clipboard, and asked, “Can I help you ladies with anything?” We were tempted to answer “YES, can you help us take notes?”  but we just smiled and said “No, we’re fine, thanks. Just checking out what’s available.”

So now, we will don our stethoscopes and come out of hiding, go back into our offices and onto our website. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Two Peds in a Pod…. Da da da, DUM DUM da da da, DUM DUM dadada…dadada…dadada…DA DA!!!

Julie Kardos, MD with Naline Lai, MD
©2011 Two Peds in a Pod®


In today’s podcast we discuss how to spot the rash of lyme disease, what to do about poison ivy, and  how to avoid sunburns. Pictured below is a creative way one child found to block the sun effectively. Notice there’s  no burn underneath the areas of skin which were once covered by temporary tattoos.


Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD

©Two Peds in a Pod®


allergyeyes“I see green stuff all over my car and I park  in the garage,” a mom said to me today.

The pollen count is high on the east coast and with it comes green cars and  itchy eyes. Eighty  percent of the older kids I saw today, including those seen for routine check-ups, had red irritated eyes.

So what to do?  Pollen directly irritates eyes, so start with washing the pollen off. One parent told me he applied cool compresses to his child’s eyes. This is not enough- get the pollen off. Plain tap water works as well as a saline rinse. Filter the pollen out of your house by running the air conditioning. Some people will leave shoes outside the house and wipe the paws of their dogs in order to keep the green stuff from tracking into the house.

Oral medications do not help the eyes as much as topical eye drops. Over-the-counter antihistamine drops include ketotifen fumarate (eg. Zatidor and Alaway). Prescription drops such as Pataday or Optivar add a second ingredient called a  mast cell stabilizer. Avoid use of a product which contains a vasoconstictor (look on the label or ask the pharmacist) for more than two to three  days to avoid rebound redness. Contacts can be worn with some eye drops– first check the package insert. Place drops in a few minutes before putting in contacts and avoid wearing contacts when the eyes are red.

Hopefully allergy season  will blow through soon. After all, as a couple teens pointed out-prom is around the corner and allergies can make even the young look haggard. One teen male told his mom that he shaved today  because having a beard and blood shot eyes made him look THIRTY years old.

Miserable allergies!

Naline Lai, MD with Julie Kardos, MD

©2011 Two Peds in a Pod® , rev 5/8/2013, rev 2015


This photo is of one of Dr. Lai’s patients who burned his arm on a hot cookie sheet. The child stopped further injury by immediately running the area under cool water.  However, his well meaning great aunt decided to then apply butter to the burn.  Please, do NOT put butter immediately on a burn. It’s like putting butter on a hot skillet.


We’re not sure where the myth of putting butter on a burn comes from. A better idea for pain control, after applying cool water for a few minutes, is to offer the child a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).


Burns caused by fire or burns covering large body areas are best treated at a hospital, but your first response, as you call 911, should be to get that burn in cool water.  Run the water for several minutes. To avoid shock or extreme cold injury, do not use ice water. Don’t remove clothing stuck to skin but go ahead and put the burn and the stuck clothing in cool water.


Most burns sustained at home are mild or may cause blisters. Burns are easily infected because when you burn away skin, you burn away an excellent barrier to germs. Washing the affected area with soap and water and applying a topical antibiotic twice daily can prevent infection. Avoid popping blisters- you will take away a protective layer of skin.


Please remember that unlike for cookie batter, butter is not better for burns. Please pass this post on to anyone you know who cares for your children…it’s “hot off the press.”


Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2011 Two Peds in a Pod®

Revised 5/17/2015


The antihistamine quandry


Junior’s nose is starting to twitch

His nose and his eyes are starting to itch.

As those boogies flow
You ask oh why, oh why can’t he learn to blow?

It’s nice to finally see the sun

But the influx of pollen is no fun.

Up at night, he’s had no rest,

But which antihistamine is the best?


It’s a riddle with a straight forward answer. The best antihistamine, or “allergy medicine” is the one which works best for your child with the fewest side effects. Overall, I don’t find much of a difference between how well one antihistamine works versus another for my patients. However, I do find a big difference in side effects.


Oral antihistamines differ mostly by how long they last, how well they help the itchiness and their side effect profile.  During an allergic reaction, antihistamines block one of the agents responsible for producing swelling and secretions in your child’s body, called histamine.  


Prescription antihistamines are not necessarily “stronger.” In fact, at this point there are very few prescription antihistamines. Most of what you see over-the-counter was by prescription only just a few years ago. And unlike some medications, the recommended dosage over-the-counter is the same as what we used to give when we wrote prescriptions for them.


The oldest category, the first generation antihistamines work well at drying up nasal secretions and stopping itchiness but don’t tend to last as long and often make kids very sleepy.  Diphendydramine (brand name Benadryl) is the best known medicine in this category.  It lasts only about six hours and can make people so tired that it is the main ingredient for many over-the-counter adult sleep aids.  Occasionally, kids become “hyper” and are unable to sleep after taking this medicine. Other first generation antihistamines include Brompheniramine (eg. brand names Bromfed and  Dimetapp) and Clemastine (eg.brand name Tavist).


The newer second generation antihistamines cause less sedation and are conveniently dosed only once a day. Loratadine (eg. brand name Alavert, Claritin) is biochemically more removed from diphenhydramine from than Cetirizine (eg. brand Zyrtec) and runs a slightly less risk of sleepiness. However, Cetirizine tends to be a better at stopping itchiness.

Now over-the-counter, fexofenadine (eg brand name Allegra) is a third generation antihistamine.  Theoretically, because a third generation antihistamine is chemically the farthest removed from a first generation antihistamine, it causes the least amount of sedation. The jury is still out.


If you find your child’s allergies are breaking through oral antihistamines, discuss adding a different category of oral allergy medication, eye drops or nasal sprays with your pediatrician.


Because of decongestant side effects in children, avoid using an antihistamine and decongestant mix.


Back to our antihistamine poem:


Too many choices, some make kids tired,

While some, paradoxically, make them wired.

Maybe while watering flowers with a hose,

Just turn the nozzle onto his runny nose.


Naline Lai, MD with Julie Kardos, MD

©2011 Two Peds in a Pod®


Spring break has arrived for many college students. While students certainly deserve a vacation from the stress of school, parents should stay aware of their children’s spring break plans. Unfortunately, students who spend spring break with friends, rather than family, are much more likely to engage in binge drinking and suffer associated consequences such as injury, unprotected sex, and assault. 

Before the spring breaks end, we encourage parents to review earlier posts about binge drinking and how to broach the subject of alcohol and drugs.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2011 Two Peds in a Pod®


The bad news is that influenza is now circulating in all 50 states. The good news is that according to the Centers for Disease Control, the vaccine covers all currently circulating strains. 



The best news: the ground hog predicts an early spring.




For the latest in updated flu information

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2011 Two Peds in a Pod®

Although the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a first gynecological visit between 13 and 15 years of age, a teen usually does not need to have an internal pelvic exam at the first visit unless she is having problems or unless there is a need to screen for certain sexually transmitted diseases.

For more information, please visit

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD


The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in June recommended adolescent girls have their first visit with an ob-gyn between the ages of 13 and 15 to help set the stage for optimal gynecologic health. This visit does not necessarily include an internal pelvic exam. Last month the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement outlining when teenage girls may stay with their pediatrician for routine care. Our guest blogger today, pediatrician Dr. Carly Wilbur, illustrates for us the guidelines.


Last week, I saw a 14-year-old young lady who suffered painful menstrual cramps.  Her mother wanted her to see a gynecologist, but my patient was reluctant.  At my office, we have a room that is dedicated to providing gynecologic care, including pelvic exams, that contains a proper exam table with stirrups.  The patient, her mother, and I discussed reasons that some adolescents can have their gynecologic health managed in the pediatrician’s office and some teenagers get referred to gynecologists. 

Many pediatricians can handle:

  • Routine/annual gynecological exams, including a Pap test,  in sexually active patients
  • Vaginal/cervical cultures used to diagnose new conditions (some general pediatric offices are even equipped with a microscope to aid in their evaluations)
  • Acute gynecologic concerns such as vaginal discharge, itching, or a change in menstrual flow

Reasons for a referral to a gynecologist include:

  • The patient has pelvic pain and needs further evaluation of her ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus
  • Patient and pediatrician have failed to find a birth control pill that is acceptable (too many side effects or unacceptable side effects) and thus require expert opinion of a gynecologist regarding oral contraceptive pills
  • The patient engages in high-risk sexual activity
  • Pediatrician does not provide gynecologic services
  • The patient becomes pregnant

This family opted to have me perform my patient’s first pelvic exam since I was familiar to her and this brought her some comfort. 

Carly W. Wilbur, MD, FAAP

Suburban Pediatrics, Inc.

Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital

Cleveland, Ohio

© 2010 Two Peds in a Pod℠
Revised 9:15pm 10/25/10


A few days ago, I spoke with the faculty of a local early childhood education center about flu vaccine myths. See how you do on the true and false quiz I gave them:


I can tell when I am getting the flu and will leave work before I infect anyone.

False. According to the CDC (US Center for Disease Control), you are infectious the day before symptoms show up.

I never get the flu so it’s not necessary to get the vaccine. 

False. Saying I’ve never had the flu is like saying, “I’ve never a car accident so I won’t wear my seat belt.”


I hate shots. I hear I can get a flu vaccine in a different form.

True.  One flu vaccine, brand name Flu Mist, provides immunity when squirted in the nose. Non-pregnant, healthy people aged 2-49 years of age qualify for this type of vaccine.


I got the flu shot so I was healthy all year.

False. Perhaps it was the half-hour a day you added to your workout, or the surgical mask you wore to birthday parties, but your entirely healthy winter was not secondary just to the flu vaccine.  The United States flu vaccine protects against several strains of flu predicted to cause illness this winter. This year’s vaccine contain both seasonal and the 2009 H1N1 strains. Your body builds up a defense (immunity) only against the strains covered in the vaccine. Immunity will not be conferred to the thousands of other viruses which exist. On the other hand, the vaccine probably did protect you from some forms of the flu, and two fewer weeks of illness feels great.

My friend got the flu shot last year, therefore, she was sick all winter.

My condolences. True, your friend was sick. But the answer is False, because the illnesses were not caused by the flu vaccine.  Vaccines are not real germs, so you can’t “get” a disease from the vaccine. But to your body, vaccine proteins appear very similar to real germs and your immune system will respond by making protection against the fake vaccine germ. When the real germ comes along, pow, your body already has the protection to fend off the real disease. Please know, however, there is a chance that for a couple days after a vaccine, you will ache and have a mild fever. The reason? Your immune system is simply revving up. But no, the flu vaccine does not give you an illness.


I got the flu vaccine every year for the past decade. I will still need to get one this year.

True. Unfortunately, the flu strains change from year to year. Previous vaccines may not protect you against current germs.


I am a healthy adult and not at high risk for complications from the flu, so I will forgo the flu vaccine this year.

False. The flu vaccine is now recommended for everyone greater than 6 months of age. When supply is limited, targeted groups at risk for flu complications include all children aged 6 months–18 years, all persons aged ≥50 years, and persons with medical conditions that put them at risk for medical complications.   These persons, people living in their home, their close contacts, and their CARETAKERS are the focus of vaccination. 

Even if I get the flu, I’ll just wash my hands a lot to keep the germ from spreading. I have to come back to work because I don’t have much time off.

False, According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, the influenza virus can spread from an infected person for about a week after infection.


Yes, kids get sick from others kids, but as a parent who comes in contact with two children, an early childhood educator who comes in contact with ten children, an elementary school teacher who comes in contact with twenty children or a high school teacher who comes into contact with one-hundred children daily, you may end up the one who seeds your community with a potentially deadly illness.  Right now, flu vaccine clinics are as plentiful as Starbucks. Hit that CVS or Walgreens on the way home, wander into your doctor’s or grab a shot while you get groceries.  By protecting yourself from the flu, you protect the children you care for.


Naline Lai, MD with Julie Kardos, MD

© 2010 Two Peds in a Pod℠