We doctors are always careful to tell parents to use the correct dosage when giving medicine to children. This helps ensure that the medicine will be effective and safe. A part of medicine safety that we don’t often talk about, but is just as important, is how to properly store medicines in the home.
While there’s no such thing as a completely childproof home and medicine cabinet, there are many steps you can take to help keep your children from finding medicines and accidentally ingesting them.
- Keep medicines and vitamins up and away and out of sight and reach of children. Choose an elevated place that’s also cool and dry. Exposing medicines to excess heat and moisture may cause them to lose their effectiveness or even turn toxic before the indicated expiration date. Make sure to put every medicine and vitamin away every time you use them.
- Lock medicine cabinets or any place where medicines are stored. Toddlers may be able to slide a chair or step stool over to reach a medicine cabinet that’s high up, so keeping it locked is a good extra precaution. Don’t leave a cabinet unlocked in between retrieving a medicine and putting it back if you’re going to leave the cabinet unattended.
- Keep medicines in their original child-resistant containers. Remember, however, that child-resistant does not mean childproof. Keeping medicines in their original containers helps ensure that you’re taking (or giving) the right medication, and the packaging contains important information like correct dosage, expiration dates and guidelines for proper disposal. Should your child accidently ingest medicine, having the original containers on hand will help emergency personnel assess risk since the capacity of the bottle can help them estimate how much of the medicine your child may have taken.
- Re-lock safety caps on medicine bottles after each use. Do this even if you use the medicine frequently. Avoiding the complications from accidentally ingested medicines is well worth the small inconvenience of having to repeatedly unlock and re-lock bottles.
- Do not keep medicines in purses or coat pockets, and advise houseguests, especially grandparents, to do the same. Curious children have amazing capabilities of getting into things, and it’s easy to lose track of them when entertaining guests. Take the steps necessary to ensure your little explorers won’t find anything that can harm them! If visitors must keep the medicines in their bags or purses, make sure they’re not left on the floor or low surfaces where kids can reach.
- Make sure children know that they’re not supposed to take medicines without supervision and never refer to medicine as candy. Take extra care with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for children such as liquid pain and fever relievers. Never let children use empty medicine containers as toys for their doctor kits.
- Dispose of expired medicine immediately. Check the packaging – the expiration date should be printed clearly on it. I usually tell parents to read the package insert to see if the medicine is safe to flush; if it needs to be dropped off at a “take–back” program (many pharmacies offer these); or mixed with pet litter, cooking oil or dirt to make it undesirable in case it is found in the trash. For more information, visit the SMARxT Disposal website.
- Be prepared in case of an emergency and know the poison control center helpline (1-800-222-1222 in the U.S). Save it in your mobile phone and post it somewhere visible in the house, preferably near the telephone or with your emergency contact list. Don’t forget to make sure babysitters and other caretakers know this number!
- If you have small children and see them with pills in their hands, always assume they ingested the medicine and call poison control immediately.
Keep these tips in mind but remember that when it comes to keeping your kids safe from accidents, whether medicine-related or not, nothing beats a watchful eye.