Everyone knows that prescription medications are prescription-only because they need to be used sparingly and with caution. However, it’s important to also remember that just because a medication is over-the-counter (or OTC) does not mean that it carries no risks. Especially for kids, over-the-counter medicines need to be used correctly in order for them to be safe and effective. Our board-certified pediatricians and nurse practitioners at Children’s Wellness Center want your family to be safe and healthy, so here are a few tips to help you use your kids’ OTC medicines correctly:
- Don’t be overly quick to give your child medicine. While the right medications can be perfectly safe if used correctly, many childhood illnesses simply need a little rest and time to allow your child’s immune system to do its job.
- Keep all medications in their original containers, complete with childproof lids.
- Always read the instructions on the original packaging for the medicine and follow the instructions closely.
- Be aware that some OTC medicines have minimum ages. For example:
- Acetaminophen (like Tylenol®) should not be given to infants under 2 months of age unless it is specifically recommended by a doctor.
- Ibuprofen (like Motrin®) should not be used until 6 months of age.
- Kids under 6 years old should not take any OTC cold medicines or cough
- Aspirin (and all medications that contain aspirin) should be avoided for all kids unless your doctor specifically says that it’s okay.
- Use measuring spoons, droppers or other applicators that are specifically made for the purpose of measuring and administering medicine for kids (in fact, many medicines come with their own measuring cups or spoons). Do not use kitchen teaspoons and tablespoons as a substitute, and don’t try to “eyeball it” and guess on a dosage. The most accurate way to measure dosage is with an oral syringe, which most pharmacies will give to parents for free.
- Some OTC medicines come in the form of oral drops for infants and syrups for toddlers. Remember that infant drops are usually more concentrated than the syrups, so if your toddler needs, for instance, 1 teaspoon of syrup, do not substitute 1 teaspoon of an infant drop medicine.
- Store all OTC and prescription medicines alike in a safe, secure place that is out of your kids’ reach. This should be one of your childproofing
- Keep in mind that some drops, syrups, and tablets include multiple medicines, so be sure to read the ingredient list. For example, if you’ve given your child a syrup that contains acetaminophen, avoid doubling up and giving him/her an additional dose of acetaminophen as well.
- Many medicines for kids have charts to tell you the correct dosage. If there is a weight chart and an age chart, use the weight chart first, because it will be a more accurate dosage.
- OTC medications can still cause adverse side effects or allergic reactions. Keep track of these so that you know if you need to avoid certain ingredients in the future. Call your pediatrician if your child vomits or develops a rash. Call 911 emergency services if your child is unconscious and won’t wake up, has a lot of trouble breathing, starts twitching or shaking uncontrollably, or begins acting very strangely.
- As far as vitamins and dietary supplements go, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vitamin D supplements of 400 IU/day for infants under 1 year of age, and 600 IU/day for kids over 1 year of age. This is primarily for infants who are being breastfed or for kids who are not getting enough vitamin D in their normal diet. Beyond this, only give your kids additional vitamins if it’s specifically recommended by your pediatrician, because large doses of unnecessary vitamins can cause serious adverse effects.
- Be sure to follow any OTC medication’s instructions about whether the medicine should be taken with certain foods, with water, without food, etc. so that your child’s body can absorb and use the medication the way it should.
When your kids are sick, of course you want to do everything you can to help them feel better quickly, and OTC medicines can be helpful. Just be sure you’re using them correctly and only when appropriate to make sure that they’re truly giving you and your kids the benefits you expect. For more kids’ health tips for parents, follow Children’s Wellness Center on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.