Major changes were recently introduced for many commonly used childhood medications to hopefully reduce the risk of dosage errors, which can lead to confusion and overdoses.
These changes include:
- a standardized concentration of acetaminophen and the elimination of acetaminophen infant drops
- a recommendation that young children under the age of four years old not be given cough and cold medications
There is still a lot of confusion out there though, with many parents unsure which medicines to give their kids, what dose to use, and others still giving their young kids cough and cold medications.
The increase in over-the-counter medications, including many store-brand medications, including many medicines that were recently only available by prescription, is also leading to an increase in confusion.
Pain and Fever Medicines
In addition to finding the right dose, it is important to make sure that you are giving your child the right medication to treat his pain or fever.
You can avoid a lot of confusion by remembering that:
- acetaminophen is the generic name for Tylenol
- ibuprofen is the generic name for both Motrin and Advil
- naproxen is the generic name for Aleve (only for kids who are at least 12 years old as a pain reliever)
Also keep in mind that many multi-symptom medications may include acetaminophen as an ingredient, so be careful or you might double up on this medication if you give your child an additional dose of Tylenol at the same time.
And there are many store brand versions of acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which can make it confusing too. Consider these two medications:
- PediaCare Children's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever
- PediaCare Children's Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer
One contains acetaminophen and the other ibuprofen.
Although acetaminophen and ibuprofen are listed on the labels, it is below the rest of the label and in smaller type. This issue isn't limited to Pediacare products though. Triaminic, Little Fevers, Walgreens, and Equate, etc. all have similar labels. It seems like it would be easier to understand the label if it read PediaCare Acetaminophen Children's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever instead.
Cough and Cold Medications
Cough and cold medications can be even more confusing to use, which makes it important to avoid giving your child more than one medication at the same time.
If you are going to give your child a cold medication, then at least try to give one that targets his symptoms and not a multi-symptom medication that might have ingredients for symptoms that your child doesn't even have.
In general, ingredients in cough and cold medications might include:
- Dextromethorphan - cough suppressant
- Guaifenesin - expectorant
- Chlorpheniramine - antihistamine
- Phenylephrine - nasal decongestant
- Diphenhydramine - antihistamine
- Brompheriramine - antihistamine
Guaifenesin is a popular ingredient with parents these days, but keep in mind that it has never been proven to be helpful in children and is thought to be unnecessary by most experts. An expectorant, guaifenesin is supposed to help loosen mucus, but if your going to give kids a medicine, they will likely feel better if you give them something to dry up their nose and suppress their cough instead.
Most importantly, follow the latest health alert and avoid giving cough and cold medications to children who are younger than four to six years old.
Now that many allergy medicines for kids are available over-the-counter, without a prescription, parents are facing some of the same confusion that they have always had with other OTC medicines.
For example, it sometimes isn't clear that all of the following medicines have the same active ingredient - loratadine:
- Wal-Itin (Walgreens brand)
- Rite Aid Loratadine
- Equate Allergy Relief
- CVS Children's Allergy Relief
That makes it important to always check the ingredients list, especially when using store brand medicines.
Other commonly used allergy medicines include cetarizine, the active ingredient in Zytrec and many store brand allergy medications, and fexofenadine, the active ingredient in Allegra and its store brand versions.
Also remember that loratadine, cetarizine, and fexofenadine are all antihistamines, so don't give them together and don't mix them with other cold or allergy medications that may also contain an antihistamine.
Avoiding Medication Errors
To avoid medication errors in children it can help to childproof your home to prevent accidental ingestions and:
- Read the label every time you give medicine to your child.
- Use the syringe, cup, or other measuring device that came with your child's medicine.
- Record every dose of medicine you give your child, especially if you think you will be giving multiple doses on the same day.
- Keep your medications in their original containers and recap and put medicines away after you are done using them.
- Ask your pediatrician about which medications they recommend you give your child when he is sick and confirm the doses of commonly used medications at sick or well child visits.
- Don't give aspirin to children or teens. It has been associated with Reye's Syndrome if given when kids have certain viral infections.
- Don't ever estimate a dose of medication for a younger child based on the dose for an older child or adult.
SafeKidsUSA. Medication Safety: Safe Storage. What You Need To Know. http://www.safekids.org/safety-basics/safety-guide/medication-safety-guide/safe-storage.html. Accessed June 2012.
CDC. Medication Safety Basics. http://www.cdc.gov/MedicationSafety/basics.html Accessed June 2012.