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How to Make the Medicine Go Down

making children's medicine taste better

This girl has medicine face.

Nobody likes to take medicine, least of all kids.  And who can blame them?  Medicine usually smells bad and tastes worse and getting kids to swallow it is a problem that every parent has faced.

Thankfully, scientists are on the case, working to make children’s medicine go down a little easier.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 8 million children die each year from illnesses that could be avoided if medicines were available in appropriate formulations for children.  And by “appropriate formulations,” they mean liquid.  Because in that form, medicines are not only easier to administer, but dosages are easier to adjust based on the individual patient.

But making medicines available in liquid form is only half the problem.  The real battle comes when you try to get a kid to take it.  Dr Marcel de Matas, of the University of Bradford’s Science Bridges China program, says that for young kids, mixing a nasty medicine up with a spoonful of sugar will usually only work once.

“It is possible to reason with an older child and persuade them to take a medicine despite the taste.  But with a six-month old baby, reasoning won’t get you very far. Sweetness is much shorter-lived than bitterness, so even where a sweetener is used, you’ll often get a nasty aftertaste. A young child will remember that the medicine tasted horrible, and will spit it out, refuse to swallow or simply refuse to take it at all.”

The key, he says, is making medicines with a neutral taste.  A tasteless medicine wouldn’t require a mixer to mask the flavor and would make it possible to create one formula for kids all over the world, regardless of their cultural preferences for what tastes good and what doesn’t.

Scientists in China and the UK are working on the problem and whoever finally figures it out will be my personal hero.  My kid is and always has been a fierce medicine-avoider.  But after a disastrous attempt to force some Amoxicillin down her throat when she was a toddler, I got creative.  Through trial and error, I have discovered that egg nog works wonderfully in masking the taste and smell of most medicines.  Of course, egg nog can be kind of hard to find ten months out of the year.  That leaves sweetened condensed milk.  A little bit of that mixed in with a spoon full of medicine usually does the trick.

How about you?  How do you get the medicine to go down?

Image:  stefan.eissing/Flickr

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