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Children and Medication: Parental Supervision Essential for Safety

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are drugs that can be obtained without a seeing a doctor for a prescription. Though these medications are generally safe and effective, OTC drugs can be dangerous for children if they are used improperly.

Children are not just "small adults" - when it comes to drugs, certain ones that work well for adults may not work (or may actually be harmful) when given to a child. One example is cough and cold preparations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently banned pediatric cough and cold preparations that contain combinations of antihistamines, cough suppressants, and decongestants. This was largely due to risks associated with overdosing on certain ingredients when parents improperly administered the medication.

Obviously, this FDA ban doesn't mean that children should never be medicated - it just emphasizes the necessity of giving a child acceptable doses of age-appropriate medications. Here are some tips for safely administering medications to children:

  • When giving a child medication at night, turn on the lights so you can read the label properly.
  • Follow label directions carefully. Do not give medicine to a child if there is no suggested dosage for age/weight; instead, consult your child's health care provider.
  • Know your child's weight so you can administer the correct dosage.
  • Use only those products that are designed for your child's age. Don't attempt to made adjustments by giving less of an adult product or more of an infant product; this may result in dosage errors.
  • Use the measuring device found in the medication package for accurate dosing. Do not use kitchen spoons or dosing cups from other medications. Also, be sure to measure liquids at eye level.
  • Do not combine medications unless you've checked with your child's health care provider.