Medications: Using Them Safely
Giving kids medicine safely can be complicated. It may be frightening to give a young child certain medications knowing that too much or too little can cause serious side effects.
But with a little knowledge and a lot of double-checking, you can give your kids medicine safely and prevent dangerous reactions.
Using medications safely means knowing when they're necessary — and when they're not. Always check with the doctor if you're unsure whether symptoms require treatment with medication.
In many cases, non-medicinal treatments may be the best bet for a quick recovery, especially with cases of the flu or the common cold. Getting enough rest will allow the body to rejuvenate, and plenty of clear fluids (such as water, juice, and broth) will help kids avoid dehydration from body fluids lost through vomiting, diarrhea, perspiration, and nasal secretions.
If your child suffers from congestion and a stuffy nose, saline 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, though, be sure to clean it thoroughly every day because bacteria and mold can develop if it isn't kept clean and dry.
To ensure the safe use of prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, discuss your child's symptoms with your doctor and pharmacist.
When giving your child medicines, you'll need to know:
- the name and purpose of the medication
- how much, how often, and for how long the medicine should be taken
- how the medicine should be administered (whether it should be taken by mouth; breathed into the lungs; inserted into the ears, eyes, or rectum; or applied to the skin)
- any special instructions, like whether the medicine should be taken with or without food
- how the medicine should be stored
- how long the medicine can safely be stored before it needs to be discarded (asthma inhalers, for example)
- common side effects or reactions
- interactions with other medications your child may be taking
- what happens if your child misses a dose
Because the dosages of prescription and OTC medicines depend on a patient's weight, make sure the doctor and pharmacist have updated information about your child's size. Too little medication can be ineffective and too much medication could be harmful. Also, different medications have different concentrations of ingredients.
Make sure the doctor and pharmacist know if your child has allergies or takes other medications regularly.
Sometimes medicines should be given on an as-needed basis (given only when a child needs them for certain symptoms, such as pain or discomfort). OTC drugs that relieve symptoms like aches, pains, or fever (such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen) should only be taken as your doctor recommends. Over-the-counter cough and cold medications are not recommended for children under 6 years. It is very important to talk to your doctor first to be sure an over-the-counter medication is safe for your child.
Many medications, though, should be taken until finished as prescribed by the doctor — even if your child begins to feel better before that. For example, antibiotics help to kill bacteria in the body, so it's important to finish all doses even after symptoms disappear because the infection can return if the antibiotic is stopped too early.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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