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When a Dose Isn’t a Dose — 7 Precautions for Children’s Medications

If you have children in need of medication, whether it’s prescribed or over-the-counter, NPR has some warnings to heed before you give that first dose. The reason is because too much or too little of a medicine can have harmful effects. Too little could keep your child from getting better; too much could send you to the ER.

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Here are seven things to remember when giving children medication:

1. Use actual measuring spoons or the device that comes with the medicine, not kitchen spoons — Believe it or not, more than 60,000 children are poisoned each year for accidental medication dosages. As the featured article notes, it could be a life-or-death situation if you’re not administering the proper dosage. A kitchen spoon is not a teaspoon. A kitchen teaspoon is not a measured dose teaspoon. Also, pay attention to the timing of when each dose should be administered. Giving a medicine too often can also be dangerous.

2. With prescription drugs, ask the pharmacist to give you a syringe dropper, which can measure a dose more accurately than a cup — Along the same line as No.1, a syringe dropper with dosage measurements is easier to use than a cup with lines on it.

3. Always read the label and accompanying inserts that explain dosages and possible side effects — This is good advice no matter your age, and no matter what you’re taking. Always be aware of what chemicals you’re putting in your or your child’s body.

4. Never mix medications, as you may actually be doubling a dose of a particular ingredient — One potential dangerous mistake that many parents unknowingly make is administering two drugs that are for different symptoms but contain some of the same ingredients.

For example, acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) is one that sends many infants younger than 6 months to the ER. As in warning No. 3, always read labels before dosing your child to make sure you’re double-dosing. Even with a prescription medication, repeat the instructions back to your pharmacist before you take the medicine home so you’re certain how much to give your child. The extra time it takes could save your child’s life.

5. Avoid giving over-the-counter cough syrups to children, especially those under 2 — When it comes to cough and cold remedies, nature often offers the best remedies of all. If your child is old enough to tolerate it, a simple saline nasal rinse with pure filtered water can unstuff a stuffy nose, while raw organic honey with a bit of lemon in it can fight a cough. Not to be outdone, our grandma’s remedy of sipping on chicken broth or filling up on chicken soup has been shown to work, too.

6. For toddlers and babies under 2, check with your doctor before administering any medicines — Actually, unless you know it’s just the sniffles or a cold, you should always check with your doctor before giving medicines to a child of any age.

7. No matter what kind of medicine you have, or who it’s meant for, store all medications where children can’t reach them.

Another note: Sometimes it can be tempting to add a dose of over-the-counter medication to a prescription drug with the idea of giving your child a little “boost” toward getting well. But that can be dangerous if you’re unaware that some drugs that don’t even treat colds can have adverse reactions.

Also be aware that poison control centers report they often receive calls after a child has ingested antibiotics, acid reflux drugs and ibuprophen — all drugs they took when an adult wasn’t looking. Interestingly, in 3 out of 4 cases of child drug poisonings, the medication belonged to a parent (39 percent of cases) or grandparent (38 percent of cases).

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