Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children
(OTC) medicines are drugs you can buy without a doctor's prescription. This
doesn't mean that OTC medicines are harmless. Like prescription medicines, OTCs
can be very dangerous for children if not taken the right way.
sure to read the package instructions on these medicines carefully. Talk to
your doctor or pharmacist before giving OTC medicines to young children.
Here are some safety tips for parents and other caregivers:
Don't give children medicines intended only for adults.
Always follow the directions on the "Drug Facts" label. This
label tells you how to give the medicine safely and in the right amount. It
lists warnings, tells you how often to give the medicine, and helps you know if
the medicine is safe for your child.
Check the "Active Ingredients" listed on the label. This is
what makes the medicine work. If you use two medicines with the same or similar
active ingredients, your child could get too much.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before giving your child more than one OTC medicine at the same time.
Also, find out what vitamins, supplements, foods, or drinks shouldn't be mixed with your child's
Talk to your doctor before you give fever medicine to a baby who is 3 months of age or younger. This is to make sure a young baby's fever is not a sign of a serious illness. The exception is if your baby has just had an immunization.
Don't give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
Aspirin increases the risk of Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
Don't take medicine in front of children,
since kids will often copy what you do. And never call medicine "candy" to get
your kids to take it.
Be extra careful with liquid medicines. Infants usually need a different dose than the dose that children need. And some liquid forms are stronger (more concentrated) than others. Always read the label so that you give the right dose.
Don't give chewable medicines to children younger than age 3 years. Wait until your child has molars.
Giving the right amount
Always follow directions about your child's age and weight
when you are giving a dose.
When giving medicine, use the tool that comes with the medicine, such as a dropper or a dosing cup. Don't
use spoons instead of the tool. Spoons can be different sizes. If the medicine
doesn't come with a tool to give doses, ask your pharmacist for one.
Know the difference between the amounts in
a tablespoon (Tbsp) and a teaspoon (tsp). A tablespoon is three times as much
as a teaspoon.
Never increase a dose
because your child seems sicker than before.
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Storing medicines safely
Store medicines where children can't see or reach them. Many OTC medicines are colorful, taste good, and can be
chewed. Kids may think that these medicines are candy.
Use medicines with a childproof cap. Lock the cap after each
use by closing it tightly.
Don't buy or use medicine from a package that has cuts, tears, a broken seal, or other problems. Check the medicine at home to make sure the color and smell are normal.
Check your medicine supply at least once a year. Ask your pharmacist how to get rid of medicines that are past their expiration
Always store medicines in a cool, dry place or as it says on the label.
Keep all medicines in their original containers. This way you avoid giving the
wrong medicine by mistake.
Using cough and cold medicines
Studies show that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines
don't work very well. Some of these medicines can cause problems if used too
much. These medicines don't cure the cold or cough. And they don't help your
child get better faster.
Use these medicines exactly as your doctor
says, and keep them out of children's reach.
Check the label before you give cold medicines to a child. They may not be safe to give to young children.
Don't give antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl, for example), to your
child unless you've checked with your doctor first. Antihistamines are
sometimes used in cold medicines, so check for them on the label.
Try other home treatments besides medicines. A humidifier may soothe swollen
air passages or help a cough. Honey or lemon juice in hot water or tea may help
a dry cough. Do not give honey to a child younger than 1 year.
Don't give your child too much acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If you are giving your child fever or pain medicine (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen), don't give your child a cold or flu medicine that contains the same ingredient. Your child could get too much medicine.
Other Places To Get Help
141 Northwest Point Boulevard
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
This American Academy of Pediatrics website has information for parents about childhood issues, from before the child is born to young adulthood. You'll find information on child growth and development, immunizations, safety, health issues, behavior, and much more.
This website has tips for safe use of over-the-counter medicines for children and adults. It has information about drug labels, ingredients, drug interactions, and more.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Consumer Health
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993
This website has health information for
people of all ages. Topics include the following: medicines, food and nutrition, medical
devices, cosmetics, and animal health. Spanish materials are also
Up and Away and Out of Sight
As part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control PROTECT Initiative, this website helps remind families to store all medicines and supplements out of sight and out of reach of children. You can also find other medicine safety tips on this site.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.