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Medicating Children
By Dr. Sally Robinson and Dr. Keith Bly

With so many different kinds of over-the-counter and prescription medications available to treat and prevent illness, it is often confusing for parents to know what type, if any, their child needs.

When giving medicine to children parents should remember:

- Never give your child medication that was prescribed for someone else. -Don’t use leftover medicine to treat your child’s symptom.
-If you have medicine left after your child has completed his or her treatment, throw it away and don’t save it because it may expire.
-If you buy an over-the-counter medication, check the packaging for tampering.
-Do not use medications if the packaging has been cut, torn, or sliced.
-Also, be sure to check the expiration date.
-Carefully read instructions on all medicines. Medications usually come with printed inserts that list side effects, as well as dosing directions and warnings.
-Call your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about the instructions or side effects.

Prescription medicines have labels or instructions on the bottle that tell you how to take the medicine. For example, a label that says “take with food or milk” indicates that the medicine may upset your child’s stomach or that food will improve absorption of the medicine. Most medicines need to be taken in a certain amount and at certain time intervals. If a label says “take every 6 hours,” this means that the medicine is taken 4 times a day. In general, it doesn’t mean that you will need to wake your child up during the night to take the medicine.

There are several ways to measure medicine. A dosing syringe or plastic dropper allows you to dispense the medicine into your baby’s mouth. This makes it less likely that he or she will spit it out. Be sure to store the dosing syringe out of your child’s reach because it can be a choking hazard. Older babies and children may use a dosing spoon, which has a long handle that children can easily grab, and children that can drink from a cup can use dosage cups that come with over-the-counter medications. Never use kitchen spoons to measure your child’s medicine. They do not provide exact measurements. Ask your pharmacist if you need help finding a measuring device to give your child the correct dose.

Many medications are given only as needed for certain symptoms, such as medicines that relieve pain or cold symptoms. However, other prescriptions will need to be taken until finished. Antibiotics, for example, help kill bacteria and prevent it from growing, so it is important to finish the entire antibiotic even if the symptoms disappear, because the amount that your doctor prescribed is the amount necessary to kill the bacteria.

Never give aspirin to children younger than 12 years of age and children under 19 years should not take aspirin during viral illnesses. A child that takes aspirin when he or she has a virus, such as the flu or chicken pox, may develop Reye syndrome, which can be life-threatening. Some over-the-counter medicines may contain aspirin or aspirin under a different name, such as salicylate or acetylsalicylate, so read the label before giving medication to your child.

Using medicines safely means knowing when your children need them and when they don’t. Check with your pediatrician if you are not sure if your child’s symptoms call for medical treatment. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a physician. For more information, contact your pediatrician or Dr. Robinson and Dr. Bly at utmb.kids@utmb.edu.

Dr. Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. For more information, visit: www.utmb.edu

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