When your child is sick, you want him or her feeling better. In many cases, parents turn to over-the-counter medicines available without a prescription. These products may help relieve symptoms, but remember, when it comes to taking medicine, kids aren’t mini adults.
Each year, thousands of children under age 12 go to emergency rooms after taking over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are serious business. Before administering any medicine to children, keep in mind the following advice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
• Always read and follow the Drug Facts label. This information is important for choosing and safely using all OTC medicines. Recheck the label every time before you administer the medicine. Be sure you clearly understand how much to give and when it can be taken again.
• Know the “active ingredient” in your child’s medicine. This is what makes the medicine work and is always listed at the top of the Drug Facts label. Sometimes an active ingredient can treat more than one condition. For that reason, the same ingredient can be found in many different medicines. For example, a medicine for a cold and a medicine for a headache could each contain the same active ingredient. So, if you’re treating a cold and a headache with two medicines and both have the same active ingredient, you could be giving your child twice the normal dose. This could be dangerous. If confused, check with a your pharmacist.
• Give the right medicine in the right amount. Meds with the same brand name can be sold in many different strengths, from child to adult formulas. The amount and directions also vary for children of different ages or weights. Always follow the directions exactly. Never use more medicine than directed, even if your child seems sicker than last time.
• Find out what mixes well and what doesn’t. Medicines, vitamins, foods, and beverages don’t always mix well. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist for help.
• Use the dosing tool that comes with the medicine. A different dosing tool (or your kitchen spoon), could hold the wrong amount. Know the difference between a tablespoon (tbsp.) and a teaspoon (tsp.) Don’t confuse them. A tablespoon holds three times as much liquid as a teaspoon.
• Know your child’s weight. Directions on some medicines are based on weight. Never guess the amount of medicine to give to your child or try to figure it out from the adult dose. If a dose isn’t listed for your child’s weight, ask your pharmacist.
• Use a child-resistant cap. Prevent a poison emergency by re-locking the cap after each use. Be especially careful with any products that contain iron; they are the leading cause of poisoning deaths in young children. If your child gets into medicine, call the Poison Center Hotline at (800) 222-1222 or 9-1-1.