Giving Medicine to Children
"Open wide ... here comes the choo-choo." When it comes to giving children medicine, a little imagination never hurts.
But what's more important is vigilance: giving the medicine at the right time at the right dose, avoiding interactions between drugs, watching out for tampering, and asking your child's doctor or the pharmacist about any concerns you may have.
Whether it's a prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drug, dispensing medicine properly to children is important. Given incorrectly, drugs may be ineffective or harmful.
Read the Label
"The most important thing for parents is to know what the drug is, how to use it, and what reactions to look for," says Paula Botstein, M.D., pediatrician and acting director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Drug Evaluation III. She recommends that a parent should ask the doctor or pharmacist a number of questions before accepting any prescription:
It's also a good idea to check the prescription after it has been filled. Does it look right? Is it the color and size you were expecting? If not, ask the pharmacist to explain. Check for signs of tampering in any OTC product. The safety seal should be intact before opening. Also, parents should be extra careful to read the label of over-the-counter medicines.
"Read the label, and read it thoroughly," says Debra Bowen, M.D., an internist and director of FDA's medical review staff in the Office of OTC Drugs. "There are many warnings on there, and they were written for a reason. Don't use the product until you understand what's on the label."
Make sure the drug is safe for children. This information will be on the label. If the label doesn't contain a pediatric dose, don't assume it's safe for anyone under 12 years old. If you still have questions, ask the doctor or pharmacist.
Children are more sensitive than adults to many drugs. Antihistamines and alcohol, for example, two common ingredients in cold medications, can have adverse effects 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. Both alcohol and aspirin are present in some children's medications and are listed on the labels.
Younger and Trickier
The younger the child, the trickier using medicine is. Children under 2 years shouldn't be given any over-the-counter drug without a doctor's OK. Your pediatrician can tell you how much of a common drug, like acetaminophen (Tylenol), is safe for babies.
Prescription drugs, also, can work differently in children than adults. Some barbiturates, for example, which make adults feel sluggish, will make a child hyperactive. Amphetamines, which stimulate adults, can calm children.
When giving any drug to a child, watch closely for side effects.
Not every cold needs medicine. Common viruses run their course in seven to 10 days with or without medication. While some OTC medications can sometimes make children more comfortable and help them eat and rest better, others may trigger allergic reactions or changes for the worse in sleeping, eating and behavior. Antibiotics, available by prescription, don't work at all on cold viruses.
"There's not a medicine to cure everything or to make every symptom go away," says Botstein. "Just because your child is miserable and your heart aches to see her that way, doesn't mean she needs drugs."
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