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Claire McCarthy, M.D.

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Medications and Kids: What Not to Do

Posted: 09/08/2012 12:05 pm

Medications can make a huge difference when it comes to making kids feel and get better -- such a huge difference that sometimes we don't realize that medications can be dangerous, too. As with every medical treatment, there can be problems and pitfalls.

Here are the "medication don'ts" that every parent should know:

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  • Anything prescribed to somebody else

    It can be really tempting, especially when you know (or someone tells you) that the medication did just the trick with that somebody else. But you can't know for sure that your child has the exact same thing -- or that the dose is right, or that it isn't going to interact with something else they are taking, or cause trouble in some other way. This is a bad corner to cut. Call your doctor instead.

  • Aspirin (unless your doctor prescribes it)

    Giving aspirin to kids in certain situations can cause a scary and possibly deadly condition called Reye's Syndrome. Sure, it's rare and lots of us got aspirin as kids (I can still remember the chalky orange taste). But why take the chance? Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen instead.

  • Old liquid antibiotics

    I see this all the time. There's some leftover from last month's ear infection, Junior is pulling his ear, why not? Well, here's why not. First of all, a doctor really needs to diagnose an infection, and starting an antibiotic before we have a chance to do that can really complicate things sometimes. Second, the stuff is only good for a couple of weeks after it's mixed up at the pharmacy.

  • Ipecac

    This is the stuff that makes kids vomit. We used to tell everyone to keep a bottle of it handy in case their kid ate something they shouldn't (like grownup medications or poisons). Turns out that it's not such a great idea for various reasons (like some of the stuff kids get into can do more damage if it's vomited, and if what they took makes kids really sleepy, the vomit could go into their lungs) so we changed our minds and told everyone to throw the stuff out. Keep all medications and poisons out of reach, and if your kid gets into something, call <a href="" target="_hplink">Poison Control</a> at 1-800-222-1222 (works anywhere in the US).

  • Expired medications

    While the stuff is probably good for a little while after the date on the bottle, it's hard to know when it's not good, so better safe than sorry. Get in the habit of going through your medicine cabinet on a regular basis and throwing out expired things -- it's such a drag to reach for the fever medicine in the middle of the night, only to find it's expired.

  • Cold medicines for kids under 6

    They can have <a href="" target="_hplink">dangerous side effects</a>. They don't really work, anyway.

Don't guess at a dose.
This can be particularly important for over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, diphenhydramine or ibuprofen. Sometimes the label will have weight guidelines, some will have age guidelines, sometimes the guidelines are only for adults. If it's not completely clear what you should do, call your doctor for help.

Don't give extra.
Just because something works well doesn't mean more of it will work better. Extra can be dangerous. Extra acetaminophen, for example, can cause serious -- sometimes fatal -- liver damage. Don't give more than prescribed and don't give it more frequently than prescribed.

Don't give herbal or homeopathic medications without checking with your doctor first.
These are mostly quite safe, and many can be helpful. But some can have serious side effects, and could possibly interact with other medications your child is taking.

Don't think that a trip to the medicine cabinet substitutes for a trip to the doctor.
Parents know their children well, and may have lots of experience when it comes to taking care of illnesses and injuries, but making diagnoses and prescribing medications can be tricky. That's why they make us go to all those years of school to be doctors.

That's the thing to remember: You and your doctor should work as a team. It's the best way to make medications -- and everything else about health care -- work as well as they can for your child.

Keep all medications and poisons out of reach, and if your kid gets into something, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 (works anywhere in the US).


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