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Medication Safety for Children


What do I need to know about medication safety for children?

  • Read the medicine label. The label will list the correct amount to give and explain how to give it. The label will also list dangers to avoid. Ask your child's healthcare provider or a pharmacist to explain anything on the label you do not understand.
  • Keep all medicine out of the reach of children. Do not leave a child alone with any medicine.
  • Store medicine properly. You may need to store medicine in a cool, dark, dry place. You may need to refrigerate it. Proper storage will prevent the medicine from breaking down.
  • Keep each medicine in the container it came in. Many medicines look alike. The containers can help you tell them apart. A medicine bottle will also have a childproof cap. Always replace the cap after you give the medicine.
  • Give your child medicine as directed by his healthcare provider. Do not split or crush pills unless directed. Ask for directions if you do not know how to give the medicine. If your child misses a dose, do not double the next dose. Ask how to make up the missed dose.
  • Keep a list of your child's medicines. Include the amounts, and when and why he takes them. Tell your child's healthcare provider if your child is taking any vitamins, herbs, or other medicines. Ask if they could interact with any other medicine or food.

How do I give the right amount of medicine to my child?

  • Check the label each time before you give a medicine. Do this to make sure it is the correct medicine.
  • Know your child's weight. The correct dose of many medicines is based on the child's age and weight. The medicine label will have a chart that shows the amount of medicine to give.
  • Measure liquid medicine accurately. Use the measuring tool that came with the medicine. If it did not come with a tool, use one that is specially made to measure medicine. Examples are oral syringes and marked dosing spoons or cups. These tools can be found at a drugstore. Do not use a kitchen teaspoon or tablespoon to measure your child's liquid medicine. They are not accurate, so your child may get too much or too little of the medicine.
  • Give the medicine at the right time. Be sure you understand how often you should or can give the medicine. Keep a chart of when to give the medicine and when you gave it. Give a copy of the chart to every person who gives your child medicine. Take a copy to your child's school if he gets medicine there.

What are some safety tips I should know?

Do not:

  • give any medicine to a child younger than 2 years unless directed by a healthcare provider.
  • give your child another child's medicine or an adult medicine.
  • hide medicine in food or crush pills unless your child's healthcare provider says it is okay.
  • let your child think that medicine pills are candy.
  • give your child any medicine to get him to sleep.
  • give aspirin to children under 18 years of age.
  • give your child vitamins or supplements that contain iron unless directed by a healthcare provider. Too much iron can be harmful to your child, especially if he is younger than 3 years.
  • use medicine that appears to have been tampered with.
  • give your child 2 or more medicines with the same active ingredient. Active ingredients are the items in a medicine that make it work. They are listed on the label. Similar medicines may use the same active ingredient. Talk to your child's healthcare provider or a pharmacist if you are not sure about the active ingredients in a medicine.

What should I know about giving my child acetaminophen or ibuprofen?

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are given to reduce pain and fever. Too much of these medicines can be life-threatening to your child. Follow these safety rules to give the medicine correctly:

  • Do not give acetaminophen to any child younger than 2 years unless directed by his healthcare provider. Ask for the correct dose for your child younger than 2 years. Too much can cause life-threatening damage to his liver.
  • Do not give your child ibuprofen if he is under 6 months of age. Ask your child's healthcare provider when to give your child ibuprofen.
  • Do not give your older child the infant form. Infant drops are more concentrated than the children's liquid form. Your child can get too much medicine if you give him infant drops. Read the label to find the right form of medicine for your child.
  • Do not give your child ibuprofen if he is vomiting a lot or is dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, sunken eyes, and crying without tears. Ibuprofen can damage your child's kidneys if he takes it when he is dehydrated.

What should I know about giving my child cough or cold medicines?

  • Do not give any cough or cold medicine to children younger than 4 years.
  • Do not give decongestants for more than 3 days. This may make his symptoms worse.
  • Do not give more cough or cold medicine than directed. Too much of this medicine can make your child very sick and can even be life-threatening.

How should I give medicine to young children?

Use an oral syringe or dropper to measure and give liquid medicine to infants and young children. Slowly squirt a small amount of the medicine into the side of the mouth and let the child swallow it. Continue doing this until your child has swallowed all of the medicine. Do not squirt the medicine directly into his throat. This may cause him to choke. The following tips may help if your child will not take his medicine:

  • Give your child something cold to eat or drink before or after you give him medicine.
  • If the medicine tastes bad, ask your child's healthcare provider if you can cool it in the refrigerator. If that does not work, ask if you can put the medicine in food or drink.
  • If your child spits out his medicine, wait a few minutes and try to give it again.
  • Do not punish your child for not taking his medicine. Be calm but firm when you give him the medicine.
  • If you cannot get your child to take the medicine he needs, have another adult try to give it.
  • Talk to your child's healthcare provider if none of the methods you try work.

What should I do if my child takes too much medicine or has an allergic reaction?

Call the Poison Control Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222 or call 911.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child has trouble breathing or stops breathing.
  • Your child is unconscious or does not respond to you.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child is wheezing when he breathes.
  • Your child has swelling in his mouth or throat.
  • Your child's eyes are sunken, or he cries without tears. He may have a high fever and be very thirsty.
  • Your child has a seizure.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child misses a dose or will not take his medicine at all.
  • Your child has a rash, or his face or lips look swollen.
  • Your child seems very excitable and has a rapid heartbeat.
  • Your child has a headache or is dizzy.
  • Your child seems confused or is fussy or irritable.
  • Your child is vomiting.
  • Your child has diarrhea with blood in it.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.