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Giving Medication to Children: A Q & A with Dianne Murphy, M.D.


Also, the market for pediatric products is small compared to the adult market because children are generally healthy and are a smaller part of the population. The high cost and difficulties associated with these trials are not attractive to sponsors who make these products.

Q: Should OTC medications be given to a child?

A: Parents need to weigh the benefit of treating the child’s symptoms against the risk of any adverse affects of the drugs. For the common cold, for example, the symptoms will run their course. Remember, OTC cough and cold products do not treat the underlying cause of the problem. They treat the symptoms.

Read the labels to make sure the product is appropriate for your child’s age. Just because a product’s box says that it is intended for children does not mean it is intended for children of all ages.

Also, be sure that you understand the possible side effects so you can be aware that it may not be the disease that is causing a symptom.

Q: What should parents keep in mind when giving medication to children?

A: Know that children can have different adverse reactions to a drug than adults. So for a product that has not been studied in children, it is possible for an adverse effect to occur that may not be listed on the drug’s label.

Children are more sensitive than adults to many drugs. For example, antihistamines and alcohol—common ingredients in cold medications—can have adverse effects at lower doses on young patients, causing excitability or excessive drowsiness. Some drugs, like aspirin, can cause serious illness or even death in children with chickenpox or flu symptoms.

Also, realize that some diseases may be expressed differently in children than in adults, and some drugs don’t work for kids even though they have been proven to work in adults.

All of these factors underscore the importance of speaking to your health care professionals, and asking questions about the medicines that you are buying OTC or that are being prescribed for your child.

Q: What are active ingredients, and why should parents be familiar with them?

A: A product is made up of many components. Some of these are “inactive” and just help make it taste better or dissolve better. Unless it is a combination product, usually there is only one “active” ingredient in a medication that makes it pharmaceutically active—that is, it is what causes the medicine to be effective against the disease or condition.

Many products, including products that treat different conditions, use the same active ingredients or the same class of active ingredients. For example, products to treat allergies may have the same active ingredient as some cough and cold products. So it is possible to overdose with a certain active ingredient if you are not careful.

WebMD Public Information from the FDA