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When your child gets sick, you want to ease her aches and fever as soon as possible. But to do so safely, it’s important to follow careful guidelines to ensure that she gets the correct medication in the correct dose.

If they're not used right, over-the-counter (OTC) children’s medicines can cause serious and even life-threatening complications.

To make sure you are using OTC pain relievers safely for your child, follow these 12 tips. They are based on recommendations from leading health groups, including the FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Read the Drug Facts label every time you use a medicine.

It will tell you the active ingredients, what the drug is used for, how much to give your child, how often to give it, potential drug interactions or side effects, and when to call the doctor. Why should you read it if you’ve used the medicine before? Things may have changed since the last time. For example, your child may have gotten older or gained weight, so the proper dosage may be different this time.

Look for the active ingredient.

This is what makes the medication work, and you need to know what it is and what it does. Remember that the name of the active ingredient is usually different than the brand name of the medicine. This means that two different brands of medicine can have the same active ingredient. So, it’s important to be sure you are not giving your child two different medicines with the same active ingredient.

Different active ingredients can also do the same thing. For example, both acetaminophen and ibuprofen help reduce pain and fever. Knowing what the active ingredient is and what it does can also help you avoid accidentally giving your child two medicines that do the same thing.

Give the right formulation.

Medicines to help ease cold and flu symptoms are formulated differently for children and adults.  You should never give an adult cold medicine to a child, not even in a smaller amount. And you should always call your doctor if your infant develops a cold or a fever.

Always follow dosage instructions.

Some medication dosages are based on weight and some are based on age, so be sure to follow what the package recommends. For those based on a child’s age, it’s a good idea to consult with your child’s doctor if your child is very light or very heavy for his age. That way, you can be sure that you are giving the right amount of medicine. Also, never give more than the recommended dose.

Only use the dosing tool that comes with the medication.

Never use a kitchen spoon or a dosing cup from a different medicine to give your child medication. Kitchen spoons can vary in size, as can dosing cups, so you can’t be sure that you’re giving the correct amount. If you misplace the dosing device that came with the medicine, you can talk to your pharmacist. Just be sure that the markings on the dosing device match the dose listed in the Drug Facts box on the medication label.

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