Medicine Safety Tips

Children and Medicine

Parents and caregivers need to provide special care for young children, especially when it comes to medicine safety. It is important to know what medicine is safe to use and what is not, how to measure small amounts of liquid medicine, and ways to keep them protected from medicine not intended for them. Parents and caregivers should also be aware of what to look for to prevent an error with your child’s medicine. Below are some safety tips unique to using medicine with infants and small children.

Safety Tips for the Administration of Medicine to Children

Don’t give cough and cold medicines to infants and young children less than 4 years old. Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines contain ingredients such as decongestants (ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylephrine) and antihistamines (diphenhydramine, brompheniramine, or chlorpheniramine). These ingredients can be harmful to infants and young children. Never administer these products to children under the age of 4, unless directed to do so by your healthcare provider. 

Don’t give children smaller doses of adult medicine or medicine intended for older children. Giving your child a smaller dose of medicine meant for an adult or older child is dangerous. Children are not merely mini-adults who can take smaller doses of adult medicine. Adult medicines are formulated specifically for an adult body. Children's bodies are less developed. An adult medicine could work very differently on them or cause serious side effects. Always look at the drug facts label for directions and confirm the dose with your pharmacist. 

Know how to measure liquid doses of medicine. Medicine for young children is most frequently administered in a liquid form. However, mistakes can happen when parents measure the liquid. This is most often due to:

Before leaving the pharmacy with a prescription or OTC liquid medicine, verify with your pharmacist that you know how to measure the correct dose. Never use a household teaspoon or tablespoon to measure the dose—both are inaccurate. For more information on measuring liquid medicines visit here.

Don’t give another dose if a child spits medicine out unless directed by a doctor. It is not uncommon for small children to spit out medicine or vomit after a medicine is given. Even if you feel your child has not kept down enough of the medicine, do not give another dose. Call your child's doctor or your pharmacist, who can let you know whether you should give your child another dose of that medicine.

Don't use OTC to treat diarrhea in young children. Do not use OTC anti-diarrheal medicines (e.g., Pepto Bismol, Kaopectate, Imodium) in young children unless recommended by your child’s doctor. Medicines to relieve diarrhea, such as Pepto Bismol and Kaopectate, may contain bismuth subsalicylate, magnesium, or aluminum, which can be harmful to infants and toddlers because they can quickly accumulate in young children’s bodies.

Don’t mix up concentrated “ibuprofen infant drops” with “children’s ibuprofen.” Parents may not be aware that there are two different concentrations of OTC ibuprofen liquid. Since babies cannot swallow large amounts of medicine there is a concentrated formula of ibuprofen liquid (infant drops). This is for babies who are 6- to 23-months-old and weigh between 12 to 23 pounds (5.5 to 10.5 kilograms [kg]). But there is a less concentrated formula for 2- to 11-year-old children who weigh 24 to 95 pounds (10.9 to 43.1 kg). If these two products are mixed-up dosing errors can occur. Learn more details about mix-ups between ibuprofen infant drops and children’s ibuprofen and what you can do.

Take extra steps with prescription medicine. When your child is prescribed medicine it is important to be aware of the following:

Take extra steps when getting your child vaccinated. Mix-ups have occurred between adult doses of vaccines and doses for children. There are also some cases of children receiving the wrong vaccine, or mix-ups between siblings. There are safety tips you can take to avoid this from happening.

Always question the pharmacist if your child’s medicine is in a powder. There are prescription medicines, such as antibiotics, that a pharmacist must add water to before dispensing them. On occasion, the pharmacist forgets to do so, and the medicine is dispensed as powder. If this happens immediately return to the pharmacy. Never try to add the water yourself or give the powder. Learn more about this problem read here. 

Be on the lookout for potential mixups between children and pet medicine. Keep pet products (medicines, food, etc.) stored away from human products. If you have a caregiver or babysitter who will need to give medicine to your child, be sure to show them where the medicine is, how to give it and how much to give. Never assume they will know what to do on their own.

Do not use lidocaine or benzocaine for teething. Lidocaine and benzocaine used as topical pain relievers have resulted in serious harm to children. Instead, use a teething ring chilled in the refrigerator (not in the freezer) or gently rub or massage your child’s gums with fingers to relieve pain. 

General Safety

A child-resistant cap on a medicine bottle does not mean it’s child-proof. Extra steps should be taken to keep medicine bottles out of the reach of children. 

Never tell your child that liquid medicine is a special drink or juice, or that solid medicine is candy. Children should learn as early as possible that medicine is not a treat. If your child refers to medicine as a treat or something that may taste “yummy,” correct them immediately.

Do not refer to medicine patches as band-aids, stickers, or tattoos. Young children may stick them on their skin if a patch is found on the floor. Small children who use a medicine patch themselves may share them with classmates. Medicine patches not intended for the person can be extremely dangerous.

Know how medicines are handled at your child’s school, camps, or daycare. Familiarize yourself with how medicines are handled and administered in the school or facility your child attends. Ask about their policy to prevent mix-ups and what emergency procedures they have in place. Visit our page Medication Safety Tips When Your Child Is at School for step by step safety tips.

Pay attention to substances that resemble candy or mints. Nicotine lozenges and containers look similar to mints, and melatonin film strips look similar to mint strips. Even more worrisome are marijuana edibles made to look like popular brands of candy. These products are not recommended for homes with children. If you use these products keep them up and away and out of reach and sight of children, even if children are not living in your home.

Be on the lookout for choking hazards. Hospitals and locations that take care of patients can have hidden dangers to small children because they often have small pieces that can pose a choking danger. Small plastic pieces from a syringe (such as a cap) or other pieces of medical tubing can end up accidentally on the floor. Sometimes even medicine tablets that a patient may have dropped may be found on the floor. Pay extra attention to children in these settings to be sure they do not access anything they can choke on.

Use bottle adapters with caution. Products are available on the internet (such as Amazon.com) to assist in drawing up liquid medicine directly into a syringe. A cone shaped adapter is pushed into the neck of a medicine bottle so that a syringe can be inserted into the adapter opening so that a dose of medicine can be measured.

Never give a medicine container to a child to use as a rattle. Many years ago, a child was given a medicine container with tablets in it to use as a rattle. The bottle contained Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone), a medicine used to treat people who are addicted to pain medicines. Tragically, the child was able to open the container and died after swallowing the tablets. Never give a child a medicine container (even empty) to use as a toy.

Avoid camphor products in homes with children. Camphorated phenol is an antiseptic liquid containing camphor and phenol. The combination of these two ingredients is often used to treat pain and itching associated with minor burns, cold sores, insect bites, itching skin, and mild sunburn. Camphorated phenol is a liquid that must only be applied directly to the skin. Ingesting camphorated phenol by mouth can cause toxicity, especially in children. In fact, ingestion of less than 2 teaspoonfuls or 10 mL (just over 1 gram of camphor) can result in a range of adverse neurological effects and, even death!

Consider where you store and dispose of medicine. If young children live with or visit you, it is extremely important to protect them from being able to access medicines. Store your medicines safely and securely out of children’s reach and dispose of any unused or expired portions properly. To learn ways to do so, and other important safety tips to keep young children safe from medicine exposure visit our article on properly storing and disposing of your medicines here.