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Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children - Get started

Over-the-counter (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.

Be sure to read the package instructions slideshow.gif 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 medicine.
  • 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.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 22, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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