Children’s Tylenol recall: Parents wonder what to do

Anxious parents are preparing to call doctors Monday morning and scouring the Internet for information after an enormous recall of over-the-counter liquid medications for infants and children that was announced abruptly on Friday evening.

The recall affects all unexpired lots of Tylenol, Motrin, Zyrtec and Benadryl formulated for youngsters — more than 43 liquid products in all. Parents across the country rely on the medications to ease their children’s aches and pains, fevers and allergy-associated runny noses and sneezes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised families to stop using the products, noting that some may contain “tiny particles” while others have too much active ingredients or inactive ingredients that don’t meet specifications. McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the manufacturer, and federal officials said the prospect of serious medical problems was “remote.”

But mothers and fathers in the Chicago area said they are nervous.

“I have to think if they’re going to recall these major blockbuster kid drugs, there’s more to it,” said Julia Goebel, a Lombard mother of a 4-year-old and an 18-month-old who is following developments closely.

“I’m just going to toss it,” said Beverly Singleton, an Oak Park grandmother who keeps Children’s Motrin in her medicine chest for her grandchildren’s visits. “I don’t want to take any chances.”

For its part, McNeil set up a hot line for parents (888-222-6036) but that number featured only a rendition of the company’s press release on Sunday when a reporter called. That release, including a list of all affected products, is available at McNeil is a unit of Johnson & Johnson.

Still, some parents said they were impressed by the company’s prompt action.

“If it’s something that’s being disclosed from the start, I think I should stick with them,” said Leonardo Valenca, visiting Chicago with his wife and twin 7-month-old daughters over the weekend. “It’s different than the way Toyota handled (its recall).”

The Tribune asked three medical experts what they would advise parents, given the limited information available.

Families should feel comfortable using generic versions of the drugs, said Dr. Saul Weiner, an associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center. There’s no reason to doubt generic drugs’ efficacy or safety, and most retailers carry them.

The generic version of Tylenol is known as acetaminophen. The generic for Motrin is ibuprofen; for Zyrtec, it’s cetirizine; and for Benadryl, it’s diphenhydramine.

It’s wiser to switch to a generic than to stop a medication for your child altogether: Don’t do that without first checking with your doctor’s office, Weiner recommended.

Also, don’t substitute herbal remedies or baby aspirin for Tylenol or Motrin, said Rhonda Yates, director of the pharmacy at Advocate Christ Medical Center and Hope Children’s Hospital.

Herbal supplements aren’t tested or approved by the FDA. Aspirin carries a risk of a rare but serious disorder known as Reye’s syndrome when used by children and teens, she said.

Yates recommended that any parent with a computer go to McNeil’s recall Web site and check the name of the children’s medications being recalled. All are in liquid form. Discard any of the drugs listed and, while you’re at it, get rid of any medications that may have expired, she said.

Under no circumstances should parents give medications meant for adults to their kids. Splitting a pill will give a child too high a dose and that could cause serious complications, said Jenny Elhadary, pharmacy administrator for Children’s Memorial Hospital.

If you have given a child one of the medications being recalled, watch out for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a rash or “any symptoms that seem out of the ordinary,” Elhadary said. Those side effects would usually appear within 24 hours. Call a doctor immediately if the symptoms appear.

For coughs and colds, consider non-pharmaceutical interventions such as nasal sprays, nasal irrigation with a salt water solution, nasal suctioning and using a humidifier.

“If you can limit the amount of medicine you give your child, that’s probably a good idea,” Elhadary said.

A Walgreen’s Co. spokesman said the company had pulled all the products from its shelves nationwide and that pharmacists are available to answer families’ questions.

McNeil is offering refunds or coupons for replacement products to families who purchased the recalled medications.

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