With cold and flu season fast-approaching (some might argue it’s already here!), it is important for parents — especially those with infants and young children — to understand what over-the-counter medications specifically marketed for children can, and can’t, do for their kids. Fortunately, as far as most pediatricians are concerned, the list of safe and effective over-the-counter preparations is very short. Cindy Kuzma reviews the do’s and don’ts, and these apply to both prescription and non-prescription medications:

  1. “Give the right dose.”  “Never guess or use an unmarked cup,” says Kuzma. Don’t use a kitchen spoon to measure liquid medicine. When the dose is in doubt, call the pediatrician’s office or ask your pharmacist.
  2. “Read labels carefully.” Pay special attention to the active and inactive ingredients on the label. (One look at the various artificial flavorings and colorings might have parents thinking twice about giving OTC meds to their children.)
  3. “Time doses properly.” Again, don’t guess! Write down a schedule with dose times on a piece of paper.
  4. “Store medicines securely.” We’ve looked at this problem before on The PediaBlog: “According to Safe Kids Worldwide, a non-profit group based in Washington, D.C., poison-control centers receive more than 500,000 calls a year concerning the accidental ingestion of medications by children. More than 67,000 kids were treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2011 alone for these ingestions.”
  5. “Communicate with caregivers.” Make sure everyone — parents, grandparents, daycare staff, school nurses — has specific written instructions and indicates on a log that travels to each additional caregiver the medicine, dose, and time given for each medication.
  6. “Keep drugs in the hands of grown-ups.” School nurses must have specific instructions and proper consent to give medications to students.
  7. “Dispose of expired medicines.” Kuzma has a trick to share when disposing of unused or expired medication:  “Be aware that flushing drugs can create an environmental hazard. Alternatively, you can dispose of unwanted medications by placing them into a small bowl of hot water. Once everything dissolves pour the contents into a clean disposable diaper and place it in the garbage.”
  8. “Never share prescriptions.” This should be obvious but parents do this quite often. Kuzma says: “It may seem harmless to give your son a dose of antibiotics prescribed for your daughter if both have an ear infection. But the same medicine may not work for him. What’s more, one child may have a dangerous allergic reaction or require a different dose based on age and weight.”
  9. “Take extra care with younger children.” To begin with, most young children actually don’t like taking liquid medication. (Read this before you end up wearing your child’s medicine.) Also, weight-based dosing is trickier for infants and young children, and the side effects are more variable and frightening if your child can’t yet communicate effectively how they are feeling.
  10. “Prepare for emergencies.” Two phone numbers to know by heart are 911 for emergencies and 800-222-1222 (Poison Control Center).
  11. “Educate children about drug safety.” Parents should set an example by buying, storing, and taking medications judiciously. (But living a healthy lifestyle reduces the chances of adults needing medications in the first place!)


More on why it’s better to stay out of the cold and flu aisle at your local market or pharmacy altogether here.