Equipping the Home Medicine Chest
By Dr. Charlotte Hendricks

As a parent, we want to take the best possible care of our children, but unless one is a physician or other medical professional, you may not know how to help your child.

First and most importantly, remember that it is not a parent’s responsibility to diagnose a child’s illness or injury or to prescribe medicine! In all cases, other than a mild tummy ache from eating too much or minor injuries such as scratched knees, parents should consult their child’s doctor. After consultation, the doctor may prescribe medication or suggest an “over-the-counter” medication. Before giving any medication to your child, check with your child’s physician and/or pharmacist and keep the following in mind: Medicines and supplies in the home “medicine chest” can be beneficial only if used properly.

Here are a few tips to make sure the medication you give your child is beneficial, and not a danger.

• Some over-the-counter medicine may not be appropriate for your child. For example, if a child has a fever, a dose of acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) should lower the child’s body temperature. However, fever can be a symptom of a much more serious problem, and parents should consult their child’s doctor.

• Do not give your child any medication that has been prescribed for someone else. Medications and dosages are prescribed according to the individual child’s symptoms, age and weight, medical history, and medical needs.

• Be aware of potential side effects of medications. Contact your child’s doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions. Contact the doctor or emergency medical personnel immediately if you notice signs of allergic reaction, such as swelling, rash, or breathing difficulty.

• Do not give children more than one medication at a time. Medications can react with each other, often producing harmful side effects. For example, taking both cough medicine and antihistamines, which both cause drowsiness, together might lead to serious consequences. Or, one medicine may “cancel out” the other medication, so your child doesn’t receive the benefit of the treatment. Help prevent this by informing the doctor or pharmacist about all medicines the child is taking—even vitamins.

• Store medications in the original container with dosage instructions on label. All medications should be out of children’s reach, preferably in locked cabinet, and away from other substances. Refrigerate medication if needed.

• Check the expiration date. Outdated medications can change chemical structure and become ineffective, stronger, or even toxic!

• Dispose of unused medication properly, such as by flushing it down the toilet.

• “Home remedies,” such as using whiskey to ease teething discomfort in infants can be dangerous, and often contain toxic substances such as alcohol or petroleum-based products. Herbal or “natural” remedies can also be dangerous. While some home remedies may be helpful, parents should discuss them with the child’s doctor.

Dr. Charlotte Hendricks, assistant editor of HealthyCHILDCare, specializes in the health and safety of young children and can be reached by email at chendricks@wwisp.com. For information about her health and safety resources, please visit www.childhealthonline.org.