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Children's Health

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The Top 10 Medication Mistakes Parents Make

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Francesca L. Kritz

Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo

Consult Your Doctor

One night a few summers ago, when my 18-month-old daughter's mosquito bites were making her itchy, cranky, and sleepless, I went to a 24-hour pharmacy to buy antihistamine. It wasn't until I got home that I read the package instructions: for children under 6, consult physician. By then it was after 10:00 p.m., and I didn't want to bother her doctor. So I guessed and gave Dina a teaspoonful. As it turns out, the amount was right, but that didn't keep me from getting a warning from my pediatrician when I called the next day: Just one extra dose of an antihistamine could make a child of Dina's weight (20 pounds) sluggish. Four times that dose could heavily sedate her.

Doctors say many well-intentioned parents slip when giving medication. The mistakes listed here can prolong a child's illness, cause bothersome side effects, and even sabotage treatment.


"A few months ago, I started to give a patient medicine using a standard measurement cup," recalls Cheston Berlin, M.D., F.A.A.P., chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on drugs and a pediatrician at Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. "Her mother asked me to use a kitchen teaspoon instead, since that was how she gave her daughter medicine at home." Kitchen spoons or cooking measuring utensils should never be used, says Dr. Berlin, because they don't provide accurate measurements — a child may get too little or too much of the drug. Whenever you give your child liquid medication, be sure to use marked spoons, cups, or syringes.

Gauge by Weight

Dosages for most nonprescription children's drugs are based on a child's weight, not his age, says Joseph Greensher, M.D., F.A.A.P., professor of pediatrics at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York. Two teaspoons of the pain reliever acetaminophen should bring down a 55-pound eight-year-old's fever within an hour, but it will take three teaspoons to budge the thermometer if he weighs 75 pounds. Always note your child's new weight at each doctor visit, advises Dr. Greensher. And because not all over-the-counter children's medications list dosage information by weight, check with your pharmacist or doctor.

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