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Health Information For Parents
Giving kids medicine safely can be complicated. And many parents feel the pressure when a young child needs a medicine, knowing that giving too much or too little could cause serious side effects.
Using medicines safely means knowing when they’re needed — and when they’re not. Always check with your doctor if you’re not sure.
Often, home care is the best bet for a quick recovery. For instance, kids who have the flu or a cold should:
If your child has a stuffy nose, saline (saltwater) drops can thin nasal secretions. A cool-mist humidifier or a warm-air vaporizer keeps moisture in the air, helping to loosen congestion. If you use a humidifier or vaporizer, clean and dry it well every day to prevent the build-up of bacteria and mold.
To safely use prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, talk with your doctor or pharmacist before giving them to your child.
When giving your child medicines, you’ll need to know:
Other things to know:
Never give aspirin to kids, especially during viral illnesses. Using aspirin during an illness caused by a
(such as the flu, chickenpox, or an upper respiratory infection) can cause Reye syndrome. This potentially life-threatening disease can cause nausea, vomiting, and extreme tiredness that progresses to a coma.
Some OTC medicines (including some that treat headache and nausea) contain aspirin. So always read labels and check with your doctor or pharmacist before using them. Also, some aspirin-containing medicines use words other than aspirin, such as salicylate or acetylsalicylate. Avoid those too.
For safe medicine use:
Double check. First, check to make sure you have the correct prescription. Many prescription and medicine bottles look the same, so make sure your child’s name is on the label and it’s the medicine that the doctor recommended or prescribed.
Be especially careful when reaching into the medicine cabinet in the middle of the night — it’s easy to grab the wrong bottle when you’re sleepy.
Read all instructions. Both prescription and OTC medicines usually come with printed inserts about common side effects and further instructions on how to take the medicine. Be sure to read all information carefully before beginning the medicine. The label may instruct you to shake a liquid medicine before using so that the active ingredients are evenly distributed throughout it. Call the doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.
With or without food? All prescription medicines have labels or instructions about how to take them. For example, “take with food or milk” means the medicine may upset an empty stomach or that food may improve its absorption. In this case, your child should eat a snack or meal right before or after taking the medicine.
Another common instruction on prescription medicines is “take on an empty stomach,” in which case your child should take the medicine 1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal because food may prevent the medicine from working properly or may delay or reduce its absorption. Some medicines interact only with certain foods or nutrients, such as dairy products, so be sure to check the label for other instructions.
The right dose. Giving the correct dose is important because most medicines need to be taken in a certain amount and at certain times to be effective. The dose will be written on the prescription label or, on OTC medicines, should be printed on the package insert, product box, or product label.
Measure carefully. You can dispense medicine in a variety of ways. For babies who can’t drink from a cup, try a dosing syringe, which lets you dispense the medicine into your baby’s mouth, making it less likely to be spit out. Be careful, though — many come with a small cap on the end that can be a choking hazard to young children. Store a medicine syringe in a safe place out of the reach of kids.
Other options for young kids are:
Never use tableware or a kitchen spoon to measure medicine because these don’t provide standard measurements. Instead, get a measuring device designed to deliver accurate medicine doses from your local pharmacy or drugstore.
Some medicine dispensers for infants and toddlers look like pacifiers. With these, you put the medicine in a small measuring cup attached to a pacifier, and then give the pacifier to the baby to suck. Most of the medicine slips past the taste buds, making it go down easily.
Whatever method you use, it’s important that your child takes all the medicine each time. If a dose is missed, never give two doses at once to “catch up.”
Try these tips to get kids to take “yucky” medicines:
Never call medicine candy to try to get your child to take it. This can backfire, and a child could accidentally overdose by taking dangerous medicine thinking it’s a tasty treat. Instead, explain that medicine can make your child feel better, but must always be taken with you or another caregiver supervising.
If your child spits out or vomits medicine, don’t give another dose — call your doctor for instructions.
And, if your child isn’t getting better or gets worse while taking the medicine, talk to your doctor.
After giving your child a dose of medicine, be on the lookout for side effects or allergic reactions. The pharmacist or product packaging may warn you about specific side effects, such as drowsiness or hyperactivity.
If your child has side effects such as a rash, hives, vomiting, or diarrhea, contact your doctor or pharmacist. Penicillin and other antibiotics are among the most common prescription drugs to cause an allergic reaction.
If your child develops wheezing, has trouble breathing, or difficulty swallowing after taking a medicine, seek emergency help by calling 911 or going to the emergency department immediately. These could be symptoms of a serious allergic reaction that requires emergency care.
Sometimes children have unusual reactions to medicines, such as hyperactivity from diphenhydramine, which usually makes adults feel sleepy. Tell your doctor if this happens.
Be as careful about storing medicines as you are about giving the correct dose. Read the medicine’s instructions. Some drugs need to be refrigerated, but most should be stored in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight.
Your bathroom’s medicine cabinet is a poor choice for storing most medicines because of the humidity and moisture from the tub or shower. Instead, store medicines in their original containers in a dry, locked location that kids can’t reach. Above-counter kitchen cabinets are great spots if they are away from the stove, sink, and hot appliances.
Child-resistant caps can be hard even for adults to open. But protect your kids by re-locking and recapping child-resistant bottles properly. Kids can sometimes open the cap, so it’s important to lock away all medicines. If any visitors to your house have medicine in their bags, purses, or coat pockets, make sure they put those out of sight and out of reach.
If your child accidentally takes medicine, call the Poison Control Center right away for guidance at 1-800-222-1222. Put this number in your cellphone and post it where others can see it in your home.
The best way to dispose of unwanted medicines is through a medicine disposal site.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) periodically hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events. Temporary collection sites are set up in communities for safe disposal of prescription drugs. There are also permanent sites in many areas. Visit the DEA website to find a disposal site near you.
If you can’t dispose of your medicines at a disposal site, keep these suggestions in mind:
Two different types of medicines are used to treat asthma: long-term control medicines and quick-relief medicines. Read about how they work, and why people might need to take them.
Medicine doesnât cure ADHD. But it does help boost a person’s ability to pay attention, slow down, and have more self-control. This article for teens has details on how ADHD medicines help.
Medicines can cause problems if they get into the water supply or the wrong hands. Find out how to dispose of old or unused meds safely in this article for teens.
You’ve taken medicine before. But what is it?
Medicines can cure, stop, or prevent disease; ease symptoms; or help in the diagnosis of illnesses. This article describes different types of medications and offers tips on taking them.
Taking responsibility for your own health care means understanding things like prescriptions. Read our tips for teens on filling a prescription.
If your child is sick, you’ll probably have many questions to ask your doctor. But have you made a list of questions and concerns to share with your pharmacist?
From fertilizer to antifreeze and medicines to makeup, poisonous items are throughout our homes. Here’s how to protect your kids from ingesting a poisonous substance.
Taking antibiotics too often or for the wrong reason has led to a dangerous rise in bacteria that no longer respond to medicine. Find out what you can do to prevent antibiotic overuse.
Reye syndrome is an extremely rare but serious illness. Cases have dropped greatly since the finding of a link between the illness and aspirin use in kids and teens.
Chugging cough medicine for an instant high is a dangerous, potentially deadly practice.
If you think that your child has taken a poison and he or she is not alert, call 911. Otherwise, contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
What kind? How much? How often? Find out how to give this pain and fever medicine.
What kind? How much? How often? Find out how to give this pain medicine.
You might think of babies and toddlers when you hear the words “babyproofing” or “childproofing,” but unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in kids 14 and under.
Whether your child is taking insulin or pills (or both) to control diabetes, it’s important to learn how diabetes medicines work.
Taking medicines is a major part of staying healthy if you have diabetes because they help you keep your blood sugar levels under control.
For most kids with diabetes, taking medicine is an important part of staying healthy. Find out more in this article for kids.
There are many downsides to experimenting with prescription drugs. Find out more in this article for teens.
If your childâs health care provider prescribed a prescription pain medicine that contains an opioid, you probably have many questions about how to use it safely. Get answers here.
Antibiotics are powerful medicines that can help kids feel better — but only when they have certain illnesses. Find out if an antibiotic is right for your child.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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