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Avoiding Medicine Mishaps With Children

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
childs hand holding pill

Medications can be essential to helping people stay well and feel well, and they can be life-saving in some situations.  Unfortunately, no medicine is completely without risks.  From medication misuse to allergic reactions, side effects, and dosing errors, problems related to medication use cause about 1.3 million emergency room visits and 350,000 hospitalizations in America each year.

Young children are especially vulnerable to medication-related problems, particularly unintentional overdoses. Recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that accidental medication exposures and overdoses send about 50,000 children under the age of 5 to the emergency room each year.  Despite these alarming numbers, children can be protected from unintentional medication overdoses by consistently following a few simple safety measures.

Prevention: The Best Medicine

Forget the spoonful of sugar; the best way to safely make medicines go down — and to prevent accidental overdoses in children — is to always use and store them properly.

“Any medicine or vitamin can be dangerous if taken in the wrong way or by the wrong person, particularly if that person is a small child,” says Jerri Rose, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine doctor at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “Walk around your home and find the best place to store medicines up and away and out of the sight and reach of young children.”

These tips can help protect children from accidental poisonings by medications:

  • Keep all medicines stored in a safe location that young children cannot reach or see.
  • Always put medicines and vitamins away each time you use them, including those you use daily. Never leave medicines or vitamins out on a counter or at a sick person’s bedside, even if you have to get the medicine out again in a few hours.
  • Always relock the safety caps on medicine bottles. If a medicine bottle has a locking cap that turns, twist it until you hear the “click” or until you can’t twist anymore.
  • Explain to children what medicine is and why you — or an approved adult — must be the one to give it to them. Never tell children that medicines are candy so they will take it, even if they don’t like taking medicines. This puts them at risk for overdosing on medications that they innocently mistake for candy.
  • Make sure that babysitters and others visiting your home keep purses, bags, or coats with medicines in them out of the reach and sight of children when they’re in your home.
  • If your child spends time in another person’s home, make sure medication safety rules are followed in those locations also.
  • Save the free Poison Help number (1-800-222-1222) in all of your phones, and share it with everyone who helps care for your child. Call the Poison Help number if you think your child might have gotten into a medicine or vitamin, even if you are not completely sure. This service is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If your child needs to take either prescription or over-the-counter medicines:

  • Talk with your doctor or pharmacist for complete instructions. This includes what the medicine is for, how much to give, proper timing, and possible side effects,” Dr. Rose says. Check the label each time you give the medicine(s) to your child to ensure that you are giving the correct medication and dose.
  • Give the precise dose for your child’s age and weight. Measure medication doses with the dosing tool provided in the package. If the medicine does not come with a dosing device, ask your doctor or the pharmacist for an accurate medicine spoon, syringe or dropper. “Avoid using kitchen teaspoons or tablespoons, as these vary widely in size and can easily result in incorrect dosing of medications,” Dr. Rose says.
  • Use child-friendly medicine. Adult medicines should not be given to kids, unless specifically advised by your child’s doctor. Ask your pediatrician or pharmacist if you cannot find a child-friendly formula.
  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist before giving two or more medicines at the same time. Some medicines can have a harmful interaction when combined.In other cases, two medicines may have the same active ingredient. “For instance,” Dr. Rose says, “giving acetaminophen to relieve pain or reduce fever along with a cold formula that already contains it could result in an accidental overdose. Furthermore, cold medications are generally not recommended for use in children.” Check in with your doctor if your child needs to take two or more medicines at once.

Following these measures can help to keep children safe and healthy by avoiding medicine-related mishaps.

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UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s dedicated team of more than 1,300 pediatric specialists uses the most advanced treatments and latest innovations to deliver the complete range of pediatric specialty services for 750,000 patient encounters each year. Learn more about UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital or find a pediatrician close to home.

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