Over-the-Counter Medicines: Tips for Parents

Did you know that 8 out of 10 parents have given the wrong dose of liquid medicine to their children at some point by accident?* While over-the-counter (OTC) liquid medicines can help ease your child’s symptoms when they aren’t feeling well, there are some things you should know before using them.

Here are four tips to make sure your child is safely getting the right amount of liquid medicine he or she needs:

1. Choose and use OTC medicines with care.

  • Always read and follow the Drug Facts label found on the medicine’s box or bottle. It has specific instructions for how to safely use the medicine, including:
    • What amount of medicine to take
    • How to take it
    • When to take it
    • When not to take it
  • Dose by symptom. Only give a medicine to a child that treats their specific symptoms.
    • Never use cough, cold, or allergy medicines to make your child sleepy.
    • Never give aspirin-containing products to your child or teen for flu-like symptoms, chicken pox, or other viral illnesses.
  • Check the dosing chart on the Drug Facts label to see how much medicine to give. Dosing directions for some OTC medicines are based on a child’s weight. When they are, check the dosing chart on the Drug Facts label to dose the medicine by how much your child weighs. If you do not know how much your child weighs, then dose by age.
    • Make sure to check the Drug Facts label to see if the medicine is right for your child’s age.
    • Oral cough and cold medicines should not be used in children younger than 4, and for some medicines, even younger than 6.
    • Pay close attention to the “Do Not Use” statements on the Drug Facts label. If at any time you are not sure if your child should take the medicine, ask a healthcare provider.
  • Use the right dosing device. Always use the dosing device (i.e., syringe, medicine cup) that comes with the medicine.
    • Never use a kitchen spoon.
    • Make sure to keep the dosing device together with the medicine it came with to help you measure the right dose.
    • Don’t mix and match dosing devices to different medicines. You might give the wrong amount.
    • When using a medicine cup, place it on a flat surface to make sure it is level before measuring the dose and also when checking the amount you dosed.
  • Know the ingredients in your child’s medicine. It is important to check the active ingredients listed on the Drug Facts label of your child’s medicines to see if they contain the same ingredient (e.g., acetaminophen). Be careful not to give your child two medicines that contain the same active ingredient.

2. Keep medicines up and away and out of your child’s reach and sight. Never leave medicines out on a kitchen counter or at a sick child’s bedside, even if you have to give the medicine again in a few hours.

  • Save the Poison Help number (800-222-1222) in all your phones, including cell phones, so you have it when you need it – and make sure it’s available for your child’s babysitter or caregiver. Call Poison Help right away if you think your child might have gotten into a medicine or vitamin, even if you are not completely sure.

3. Toss expired or unwanted medicines safely. Don’t use medicines past the expiration date, as they may not provide the treatment you need. Follow these safe disposal steps.

4. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have questions.

* According to recent National Institutes of Health study.

Many rely on OTC cough and cold medicines to help children feel better when they are sick, and it is important that parents and caregivers know how to give these medicines to children safely. Treat with Care arms parents and caregivers with the information they need to safely give OTC cough and cold medicines to their little ones.