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

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You should not decide what OTC medications to take or to give a child based merely on what the large print on a product’s box says. You must look for the active ingredient.

If parents or caretakers really want to know if a product has been studied in the age population that their child belongs to, they really should become familiar with the pediatric section of the label for that product, and learn to compare active ingredients for OTC products.

Also, don’t rely just on advertisements for information when it comes to giving medication to children. Remember, many products have not been studied in children or not in all pediatric populations. Don’t hesitate to ask questions of health care professionals, including the pharmacist.

Q: How can parents make sure they give proper dosages of a medication to a child?

A: The main rule is: Use only as directed.

Use the measuring devices that come with the products, and use these devices as instructed. Never use home utensils such as spoons or other devices that have not been designed to measure medicine, and never have a child drink directly from a medicine bottle.

With measuring devices, pay attention to the small details. It can be easy to misread a measurement or a marking. You don’t want to give your child a tablespoon when you’re supposed to give him a teaspoon, or give her 5 milliliters (mls) when you’re supposed to give her 0.5 mls. Mistakes like this can be deadly.

Q: What has FDA recommended regarding OTC cough and cold medicines and young children?

A: FDA recommends that OTC cough and cold medicines not be used to treat infants and children less than 2 years of age. Giving these products to these children can cause serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.

The serious adverse events reported with cough and cold products include death, convulsions, rapid heart rates, and decreased levels of consciousness.

Many drug manufacturers have preemptively and voluntarily withdrawn cough and cold medicines that were being sold for use in this age group. That action was strongly supported by FDA.

If you are concerned about making your child feel more comfortable, talk with your doctor about what approaches to take. If your child’s cold symptoms do not improve or get worse, contact your doctor. A persistent cough may signal a more serious condition such as bronchitis or asthma.

Q: Can parents give OTC cough and cold products to older children?

A: FDA knows of reports of serious side effects from OTC cough and cold medicines in children 2 to 11 years of age, but we haven’t completed our review of information about the safety of these products in children of this age.

WebMD Public Information from the FDA