Over-the-counter medicines: strategies for child safety

Information on this website is not medical or dental advice. For more accurate medical and dental information please contact your pediatrician and dentist.

Consult your doctor

Medicines and the doses in which they are given vary according to the age among other factors. Children who are less than 3 months old should never be given any medication until they are first examined by a pediatrician who will recommend the appropriate medicine. For children older than 3 months, you should ask for advice from a doctor or qualified pharmacist. Any concerns or questions should be addressed by a doctor.

Don’t give aspirin

Aspirin is listed as one of the possible causes of Reye’s syndrome and it isn’t advisable to give it to young children. Consult your pharmacist about the contents of the medicine you buy to make sure it doesn’t contain aspirin.

Over-the-counter medicines strategies for child safety

Fever and pain

Don’t give fever or pain relief medicine to your baby if she is below 3 months old unless it has been prescribed by a pediatrician. For those over 6 months old, you may give medicines recommended by a health professional to relieve fever or pain.

Carefully observe the prescribed dosage

Always give medicines in the prescribed dosage and check the package to ensure that you are giving your child the correct dose. Observe the following guidelines:

  • Use a dropper or measuring tool to properly measure the medicine.
  • If dosing guidelines aren’t available on the package for your child’s age, ask your pediatrician. Don’t forget to specify the concentration of the medicine when you talk to the pediatrician.
  • If you leave your child with a caregiver, instruct her to log the dosage and time when she gives the child medicine. This is important to ensure the child is not double-dosed.
  • Don’t give a smaller dose of an adult medication on your own because you may mistakenly give the wrong dosage. If you can’t get the right medicine for our child, talk to your doctor. He will advise you on what to do.
  • Don’t always be in hurry to use medicines for the slightest sniffle your child has. Use medicines sparingly.

Stick to one medication

Don’t alternate between different drugs aimed to treat the same symptoms; for instance, don’t alternate between acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Stick to one drug at a time. If the symptoms persist, it could be due to a cause that hasn’t been addressed. In such a case, seek help from a doctor instead of mixing medicines.

Avoid cough and cold products

For children below the age of 4, avoid giving them over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. Such products should also be given to kids under 13 with great caution. This is because the side-effects from using these medicines may outweigh the benefits and even be life-threatening. If the child suffers from food allergies you can safely use antihistamines under a pediatrician’s supervision.

Check packaging and expiry dates

Whenever you buy medicine, whether for an adult or child, always check the package for signs of tampering and check the expiry date to make sure you don’t use medicine that has gone bad.

Be alert for signs of overdose or allergic reactions

Medicines if used incorrectly can have serious or even fatal effects. If your child starts having seizures, becomes unresponsive and lethargic, and vomits or if you suspect an overdose has occurred, seek medical attention urgently.


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