What do I need to know about my child's medicines?
Your child's doctor and your pharmacist can answer questions about prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. (OTC medicines are medicines that you can buy without a prescription from your doctor.)
Here are some things you should know about each of the medicines that your child takes by mouth (oral medicines):
- The name of the medicine
- What the medicine is for
- The dose (amount) of the medicine to give
- What measuring device to use to give your child the medicine
- The number of times a day the medicine should be given
- The times of the day the medicine should be given
- Whether the medicine can be given with food
- The number of days the medicine should be given
- How you will know the medicine is working
- The most common and important side effects
What should I tell the doctor?
When your doctor prescribes a medicine, or when you ask about giving your child an OTC medicine, be sure to tell your doctor these things:
- Other medicines that your child is taking (both prescription and OTC medicines)
- Any drug allergies your child has
- If the medicine costs too much for you to buy
What can I expect from my pharmacist?
The pharmacist should tell you when and how to give your child the medicine, and should answer any questions you have about the medicine. For liquid medicines, the pharmacist should give you a measuring device and show you the right way to use it.
What should I do if my child won't take medicine?
There are many things you can do to make medicine taste better to your child. Put liquid medicines in the refrigerator before giving them to your child. If your child will not take a medicine because of the taste, it may be okay to mix the medicine with a small amount of liquid (like juice) or soft food (like pudding). Ask your doctor or pharmacist about your child's medicine to see if this is okay. Some pharmacies have flavorings they can mix with liquid medicine before you take it home.
You should also explain to your child how medicine can help him or her stay healthy or feel better.
How can I safely store medicines?
Store all medicines up and away, out of reach and sight of young children. Keeping medicines in a cool, dry place will help prevent them from becoming less effective before their expiration dates. Do not store medicines in bathrooms or bathroom cabinets, which are often hot and humid.
Things to remember about giving medicine to your child:
- When you get a new prescription, ask your doctor or pharmacist for a medicine information sheet. It will tell you about the medicine.
- Be sure you only give the prescribed or recommended dose of each medicine. Sometimes people think, "If a little medicine is good, a lot is better (or will work quicker)." This is wrong. Giving too much medicine can be harmful.
- Use a special measuring device for liquid medicine to get the correct dose. Ask your pharmacist for a spoon, cup, or syringe that lists both teaspoons (tsp) and milliliters (mL). An ordinary kitchen teaspoon will not hold the right amount of medicine. If you use a syringe to give liquid medicine to your child, first throw away the small cap of the syringe. Children can choke on these caps.
- When the drug facts label on the medicine says to give it "every 6 hours," that generally means the medicine is taken 4 times a day (for example, at breakfast, lunch, supper, and bedtime). It doesn't usually mean you have to wake the child up in the night to take medicine. “Take every 8 hours" generally means the medicine should be taken 3 times a day.
- Even when your child begins to feel better, continue to give as much medicine as the doctor prescribed. If you are giving your child an OTC medicine, it is usually okay to stop when your child feels better.
- Ask your doctor to include on the prescription label what the medicine is for. This helps the pharmacist double-check the prescription.
- Children should not be allowed to play with medicine bottles.
- If your child has a bad reaction to a medicine or is allergic to a medicine, tell your doctor right away. This is important medical information. You should also keep a record of the following information at home: the name of the medicine, the dosage directions, why your child is taking the medicine; and any side effects the medicine caused.
- If your child has any problems after taking a medicine, call your doctor or the pharmacist right away.
Funding and support for this material have been provided by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff