Step into any pharmacy or grocery store and you’ll see shelf after shelf of over-the-counter medications – many of which are targeted at children or infants. But just because it’s sold in the grocery store without a prescription does not make a medication safe for your baby. In fact, some medications can cause serious medical problems – or worse – if used incorrectly.
Many common medications should not be given to young children at all. Aspirin, for example, can cause a rare but dangerous condition known as Reye Syndrome. And many common cold medications mix several ingredients, which can lead to accidental overdose. The American Association of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of cold medications for any child under six years of age.
Always talk with your child’s health care provider before starting a new medication. Keep your child’s doctor’s phone number handy so you can call them, even after hours.
What you need to know about common over-the-counter medications.
There are several medications that your health care provider may recommend to reduce fever or pain. These include pain or fever reducers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin.) Consult your healthcare provider before giving any infant under the age of 2 any fever reducer or cold medicine. Even though these medications are considered safe, it is possible to overdose, which can lead to liver damage, so read the dosing instructions carefully. Combining acetaminophen with other medication – such as cold medicine – is not recommended because some cold medications contain acetaminophen.
Always talk to your child’s health care provider about new medicines
It’s always as good idea to talk to your child’s health care provider before starting your child on a new medication, especially if your child is under two years of age. Here are some of the questions you may want to ask.
- Are there any side-effects with this medication?
- When should I give my child the dosage you recommend? And how long should I continue to do so?
- How should I administer this medication to my child?
- How does this medication help my child?
- What if my child refuses to take the medication or spits some of it out?
- Does this medication come in any other form such as a chewable tablet or a liquid?
Remember to tell your healthcare provider if …
- Your child has, at any point, had a reaction to any medication.
- Your child is currently taking any other medication.
When you are giving your child medicine, here are some important things to remember.
- Before giving medication, make sure you have had a conversation with your health care provider about giving your baby medicine. Your child’s pediatrician office probably has a nurse on call after hours. Use this valuable resource!
- Read the bottle to ensure that the medication is safe for your child’s age. Also read about the side possible side effects so you can more easily recognize them. Follow all the directions provided with the medicine.
- Talk with your health care provider if your child is taking more than one medication. Some over-the-counter medications may include acetaminophen (Tylenol) as an ingredient. If parents don’t realize this, they may accidentally provide multiple doses. While acetaminophen is generally safe, overdosing poses a genuine health risk.
- Know and use your child’s weight to help determine the correct dosage according to the label on the bottle. For exact dosing, use the syringe or cup that came with the medication – never a kitchen spoon or measuring spoon.
- Check the expiration dates on all medications before using because expired medication can be ineffective or harmful.
- Do not mix medications with food or beverages unless specifically advised by your healthcare provider. Instead, offer your child a favorite drink after giving them their medication to wash it down. (Some medicines to require you to avoid certain foods so read the label before you make a deal!)
- If your healthcare provider has prescribed antibiotics for your child, remember it is essential that they take it for as long as the doctor recommended, even if symptoms improve. Otherwise, the bacteria could can become resistant to treatment and more difficult to treat. Let your healthcare provider know if symptoms remain unresolved after an antibiotic regimen is complete. Never give your child an antibiotic that was not prescribed – to them – and for that particular illness.
- Remember to keep all medications in your home safely out of reach and ensure that all child-proof caps are screwed on tightly. If your child accidentally eats or drinks any medication do not try to induce vomiting or handle it on your own; call poison control immediately at 1-800-222-1222, anytime, day or night.
When to call your child’s health care provider
- Before providing cough or cold medicine.
- Your child throws up or develops any type of rash after receiving a medication. Your child could be allergic.
- Before giving a child a decongestant—whether in the form of a liquid, pill, or nose drops. If a child is eating and sleeping well, a stuffy nose does not need treatment. Some research shows that decongestants do not aid children’s recovery and become less effective the longer they are used.
- Before giving a child under 2 years of age acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If an infant develops a fever under 3 months of age, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
- Before giving a child stomach medications. Many of these medications contain aspirin which can be very unsafe for your child. Most stomach discomfort will go away on its own or with a change in diet.
- Before giving a child cough medicine. You should contact your healthcare provider for a recommendation as to what medication would best help your child’s symptoms. Some medicines loosen phlegm while others calm coughing.
Schedule a home visit
This is a lot of information to remember but a Healthy Futures nurse can help you with any questions. If you have an urgent health concern, always call your health care provider, but your Healthy Futures nurse can offer advice and insight on a wide range of topics. Schedule your home visit if you haven’t already had one.