We all know how stressful things can get when our children fall ill. And when medicines are necessary, there is added pressure. How do we give the right doses to avoid side effects? What happens if we have a child who’s less-than-enthusiastic about taking their medication?
Read on for the questions you should be asking about your children’s medicine, and 12 key tips that parents should bear in mind for safer medicine usage:
1. When in doubt, ask
The health of our children is too precious for any guessing games. If you are unsure about your child’s condition, or have any questions about the medicine (when to give it, which medicine might be suitable, how and when to give the medicine) , speak to your pharmacist or paediatrician. This is especially important, if your child is below six months old.
These are some of the basic questions you should be asking:
- What is the name and purpose of the medicine?
- How much, how often in the day, and for how long should the medicine be given?
- How should I administer the medicine? Is it meant to be taken orally, applied on the skin, inserted into the ears, eyes or rectum, or breathed into the lungs? Can it be mixed with water, juice, milk, puree, or my child’s food?
- When should I give it – with or after food, or at another specific timing?
- How soon will I see symptom relief? What should I do if there is no relief?
- Are there any side effects or reactions to monitor?
- Will the medicine interact with any food or current medicines my child is taking?
- Are there certain foods or drinks to avoid with the medicine?
- How should the medicine be stored, and how long should I keep it for?
- What happens if my child misses a dose?
2. Know the weight of your child
Medicine dosages for children depend on a patient’s weight to determine the correct dosage. It would be good to have an accurate scale in the house, to check your child’s weight before giving any medicines. Do make sure that your child’s doctor or pharmacist is updated on your child’s weight and age. Too little medication can be ineffective, and too much can be harmful.
3. Always double-check
Check to ensure the medicine is prescribed for your child, with a name label on the bottle. For medicines purchased over the counter in the pharmacy, check the bottle to ensure it contains the correct active ingredient and strength for your child, as one type of medicine can be marketed under different brands with different concentrations.
It is important to give the correct dose, as medicines need to be taken in certain amounts and at certain times to ensure effectiveness. Check the prescription label, or the instructions on package inserts for dosing. Pay extra attention when giving medicines at night, as it is easy to take the wrong bottle or to give the incorrect dose when you’re sleepy.
4. Read the instructions on the labels and package inserts
Product labels or inserts usually come with medicines, and would list out important information, such as dosing instructions, possible side effects, precautions and warning signs to watch out for. Read all information carefully before giving the medicine to your child.
The labels on liquid medicine may, for example, instruct a user to shake the liquid before administering the medicine, to ensure that the content is evenly distributed throughout. Labels may also instruct us on how to take the medicine. As an example, “Take with food or milk” indicates that your child should eat a meal or a snack, right before or after taking the medicine. This means that the medicine requires food to improve its absorption, or else, it may upset an empty stomach.
Another common instruction seen is “Take on an empty stomach”, which means the medicine should be taken an hour before or two hours after a meal, as food may prevent the medicine from working properly, or may delay or reduce its absorption. Read the label as well to determine the medicine’s interaction with certain foods or nutrients, such as dairy products.
5. Measure the medicine carefully
The accuracy of medicine doses are important to ensure that the correct dose is given, particularly for children. Using kitchen spoons and other household utensils with varied sized would not be accurate enough to measure medicine doses. A dose too large or too small matters for a child, in terms of side effects and efficacy.
For babies who cannot drink from a spoon or cup, try using a dosing syringe that directly dispenses the medicine into the baby’s mouth, reducing spit-outs. Other options for young kids might include plastic droppers, cylindrical dosing spoons that have a long handle (which would be easier for children to grab onto), or small dosage cups, if your child can drink easily without spilling.
As hard as it might be, try the best method that works for your child, to help them take all the medicine each time. If a dose is missed, never give two doses at once to ‘replace’ what was missed.
6. If multiple medicines are used, check for duplicate ingredients
Check the active ingredient in the medicine, to make sure your child is not given products with similar active ingredients – unless prescribed by your paediatrician. For example, many cough and cold preparations are combination products, with pain relievers for ease of administration. It could therefore be possible for you to give your child two different products with the same ingredients, without realising it.
7. Give babies or children medicines that are specially formulated for their weight and age
Adult medicine should not be given to a child, as estimating a child’s dose from an adult-strength liquid (or cutting adult strength tablets into half) can result in accidental overdoses. Similarly, older children should be given tablets when appropriate, instead of liquid medicines formulated for babies, which can lead to dosing errors.
8. Inform your doctor about allergies and regular medicines
Ensure your doctor or pharmacist is informed of any allergies or any regular medicines your child is taking.
9. Complete the course of medicines prescribed
Prescription medicines should be taken until finished, as prescribed by the doctor, even if your child feels well before that. For example, antibiotics kill bacteria and it is important to finish this course, even after your child recovers. If you fail to do so, the infection might come back.
10. Be careful about used medicines with leftovers
Always check the bottle for expiration dates and never use expired medicines for new illnesses. Antibiotics are usually reconstituted prior to use, and will last for a short time only (1 to 2 weeks); they will need to be discarded thereafter. For medicines taken as needed, with leftovers, write down the opening date on the bottle. These can usually last between three to six months after opening. However, if there are any changes in colour or smell, or if the bottle has been left opened, it would be best to discard this and get a new bottle.
11. Store your medicines safely
Keep all medicines out of the reach of children, and only let your child take their medicine under the guidance of a responsible adult. Educate children that medicines are not candies, and they should not touch, sniff or taste these on their own.
12. Know when to seek help
Finally, remember that most medicines are for temporary relief of symptoms. If your child’s condition persists or worsens, go to the nearest doctor or emergency centre immediately.
By Madeline Khor
Madeline works full time as a pharmacist, is a mother of two and loves some occasional photography stints. Life in Kuala Lumpur is as hectic and tiring as it can get with two young kids, but she still loves spending time and exploring the world with the them, while trying to make a difference in the lives of people she touches at work.