Over-The-Counter Medicines for Infants and Children
Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are medicines you can buy without a healthcare provider's
prescription. They usually come as pills, capsules, or liquids, and are sold in drugstores
OTC drugs have information on the bottle or box. Always read this information before
using the medicine. This information tells you:
Here are tips from some professional health organizations and the FDA on how to give
OTC medicines to children:
OTC cough and cold medicines should not be given to infants and small children
without talking with your child's healthcare provider first. The FDA and American
Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend against giving them at all to infants and
children under the age of 2 because of possible serious life-threatening side
Medicine doses for infants and young children are based on age and weight. Know
your child's weight.
Follow the directions for age and weight. If the recommended age is not your
child's age, don't give the medicine.
If no dose is given on the bottle or package for children under 12 years old,
ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if it is OK to give the medicine to
your child. Ask how much you should give and when you should give it.
Liquid medicines usually come with a cup, spoon, or syringe to help measure the
right dose. Always use these items to give medicine to infants and very young
children. Using a kitchen teaspoon is not the correct way to measure. A teaspoon
is usually considered to be 5 cc or 5 mL, but kitchen teaspoons can vary in size
from between 2 mL and 10 mL.
If you want to mix medicine with milk or formula, first put the medicine in 1
ounce of milk and have the child drink it all. Then feed the remaining formula
or milk in the bottle.
Always measure or give medicine with a good light turned on. Insufficient light
could cause you to give the wrong medicine or the wrong dose.
Never let young children take medicine by themselves.
Many OTC cough and cold medicines contain a combination of ingredients to treat several
symptoms. Your child might be getting some of the same ingredients in other medicines.
For example, man cold medicines also contain acetaminophen. Be sure to read the list
of active ingredients (the ingredients that make the medicine work) for each OTC medicine
you give your child. Make sure he or she is not getting a double dose of the same
medicine. You need to make sure that the total amount of a medicine is not more than
the recommended dose.
Combinations of medicines found in multisymptom medicines may cause more side effects
in children. The combination of antihistamines and decongestants in some "cold remedy"
medicines can have side effects like hyperactivity, sleeplessness, and irritability
in children. To be safe, don't combine prescriptions, supplements, or multisymptom
medicines without checking with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
Watch the ingredients
Sometimes the ingredients for a medicine change, but the name stays the same. For
example, the formulation of Kaopectate, an OTC medicine for diarrhea, changed so it
now contains bismuth subsalicylate. The older versions contained only kaolin and pectin
or attapulgite. (Bismuth subsalicylate is also found in Pepto-Bismol. This is an OTC
medicine for upset stomach and diarrhea.) Bismuth subsalicylate is NOT recommended
for children younger than 19 because of the risk of a rare but sometimes deadly condition
called Reye syndrome.
Because of Reye syndrome, do not give a child younger than 19 any product with aspirin
or similar drugs called "salicylates" unless your healthcare provider tells you to.
Instead of aspirin or other salicylates, you can give your child acetaminophen.
Watch the amounts
Be sure to take into consideration the concentrations of ingredients when you determine
the amount you give your child. Medicines with the same brand name can be sold in
different strengths. This includes infant, children, and adult formulas. Infant drops
of some medicines, for example, are stronger than the liquid elixir of the same medicine
for toddlers or children. This is because infants may not be able to drink a large
volume of medicine to give their proper amount. Don't make the mistake of giving higher
doses of the infant drops to a toddler thinking the drops are not as strong.
Here are some other suggestions:
Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist to find out what mixes well
and what doesn't. Medicines, vitamins, supplements, foods, and beverages don't
always mix well with one another.
Don't call medicine "candy." If children find medicine at a later time,
they may consider it "candy" and eat it without your knowing.
Always use child-resistant caps and store medicines in a safe place. Relock the
cap after each use. Be especially careful with any products that contain iron.
They are the leading cause of poisoning deaths in young children.
Before you give a medicine, check the outside packaging for damage such as cuts,
slices, or tears. Check the label on the inside package to be sure you have the
right medicine. Make sure the lid and seal are not broken. Check the color, shape,
size, and smell of the medicine. If you notice anything different or unusual,
talk to a pharmacist or your healthcare provider.
Classes of OTC medicines
OTC medicines are divided into the following classes:
Brand names of OTC medicines can change and store brands are common. Be
sure to read the labels to know what the active ingredients are in all products.
Analgesics treat pain and fever. Use caution with different forms of these
drugs. Some are more concentrated than others. Common analgesics for infants
and children are acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Do not give aspirin to children
younger than 19, because it can cause a rare but sometimes deadly condition called
Antihistamines treat runny noses, itchy eyes, and sneezing caused by allergies
(but not colds). Some can cause sleepiness. These are not recommended for
children younger than 2. Use only with your healthcare provider's OK in young infants
or children with asthma. Examples of antihistamines include dexbrompheniramine
(often in combination with decongestants like phenylephrine), chlorpheniramine,
diphenhydramine, cetrizine, and loratadine.
Expectorants and combination cough medicines may help loosen mucus. Cough
suppressants numb the reflex to cough. Coughing is necessary to clear mucus and
bacteria from the lungs. Check with your child's healthcare provider before using
cough-suppressing syrups. Guaifenesin, an expectorant, helps thin mucus that
is more easily removed by coughing.
Decongestants can relieve stuffiness caused by allergies or colds by temporarily
shrinking the membranes in the nose to make breathing easier. They should not
be used for more than 2 days to 3 days in a row. Decongestants taken by mouth
can have a number of side effects like irritability, sleeplessness, and dizziness.
Medicines for diarrhea. These are usually not necessary. Instead, give your
child plenty of fluids and let the disease run its course. Diarrhea can be dangerous
in newborns and infants. In small children, severe diarrhea lasting just a day
or 2 can lead to dehydration. Because a child can die from dehydration within
a few days, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible if an infant has diarrhea.
Talk to your healthcare provider before giving these medicines to infants or
children. One medicine for diarrhea, bismuth subsalicylate should not be given to
a child younger than 19. Another medicine for diarrhea, loperamide, should not
be given to a child younger than 2.
Laxatives relieve constipation and work by several methods. Some add fiber
or water to stool to make it more bulky and easier for intestines to eliminate
it. Some coat the surface of the stool to make it more slippery. Some soften
the stool so it passes more easily. Others cause the intestines to contract more
forcefully. Do not give infants or children laxatives without talking to your
child's healthcare provider. Examples of laxatives include glycerin suppositories,
magnesium citrate, magnesium hydroxide, mineral oil, psyllium, senna, methylcellulose,
castor oil, and sodium phosphate.