Prescription for Safety

Be careful with over-the-counter meds too.

By Joseph Toland, MD

Your toddler has a low-grade fever and a runny nose, and the pediatrician says to give him acetaminophen. He doesn’t seem much better in a few hours, so you’re tempted to give him a little extra on the next dose.

Stop! Do not increase the amount of medicine you give your child. Overdosage may cause very serious side effects.

You must follow the medicine’s directions exactly, whether administering prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications. Research shows that up to half of children who take medications are not getting them according to instructions. To prevent overdose or poisoning and to make sure the medication works properly, always follow exact guidelines.

Call first

  • Check with your pediatrician before giving your child any medication, including over-the-counter medications, herbal products, supplements or home remedies.
  • Make sure your pediatrician knows if your child is taking more than one medication at a time.

Read the label

If it’s prescription medication, make sure the label has your child’s name on it, and give it exclusively to that child even if other children in the house have similar symptoms. Make sure the name of the medication matches what the doctor prescribed and that you are giving the right dose.

  • Before opening a new medication, check for signs of tampering. Do not use any medication when packaging shows cuts, tears or other imperfections.
  • Do not give expired medication or save unused prescriptions for another illness.
  • Follow special instructions, such as “take full course” (finish entire contents of prescription) or “take with food.”

Pain and fever meds

  • Do not give children aspirin as it may cause very serious side effects.
  • Acetaminophen and ibuprofen do not cure illness; they merely temporarily relieve symptoms such as pain and fever.
  • When giving acetaminophen and ibuprofen, remember that infant drops are much stronger than liquid “elixir” for toddlers. Follow dosing recommendations.
  • Ibuprofen is more effective than acetaminophen for high fevers (higher than 103 degrees F), but it should not be used for babies under 6 months of age. Do not give it to your child if he is dehydrated or vomiting continuously. If your child has kidney disease, asthma, an ulcer or other illness, check with the pediatrician first.
  • Do not give acetaminophen and ibuprofen in combination with other pain relievers or fever reducers without consulting your doctor. Some cold remedies contain these drugs.

Liquid logic

  • Measure correctly. Don’t use standard dining spoons. Use oral droppers, dosing spoons or medication cups made for measuring and administering medication to children.
  • If the medication does not come with a measuring device, ask the pharmacist for one. When using a medication cup, do not mix and match cups to other products.
  • Do not confuse the abbreviations for tablespoon (TBS or T) and teaspoon (tsp or t).
  • To avoid mistakes, turn on the light when preparing and giving medication, even if you’d rather not fully awaken your child.

Dr. Toland practices with North Shore Pediatrics.