PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Medication Tips for Your Child

Posted on Mar 10, 2015


Nina Rezai, M.D., a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, answers these questions parents ask her frequently about medication safety and how best to help children when they get sick.

How can I keep medicine safe from my curious little girl?

Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning, so it’s important to take several steps to protect your child. Be sure to buy medicines with child-proof caps. Kids are very inventive and they develop quickly, so you’ll need to take other measures, too.

Medications should always be up and out of reach. And keep the poison control number, (800) 222-1222, on your cell phone. In an emergency, you’ll want to call quickly no matter where you are.

What’s the best way to treat fever in my child?

Parents can be concerned when their child has a fever, and think they’re treating their child’s illness by bringing the fever down. But a little fever can be a good thing. Fever is actually your body’s way of fighting off a virus. I don’t treat fever under 102 F as long as the child is comfortable. For higher fevers – or if your child is miserable – I tend to treat with acetaminophen (Tylenol) because it’s easier on the stomach. Babies over six months of age can also take ibuprofen, with food.

Never give aspirin to a child under 18. It’s been linked to a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome, which causes swelling in the liver and brain.

What can I give my toddler to help ease his cold?

We don’t have any medicine that really makes a cold go away. The body has to fight off a cold virus, and that usually takes a few days or a week. Cold medicines are like a band aid. They don’t help much, and if used improperly can cause harmful side effects. Cough and cold medicines aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children under 2. I tell parents not to use them in children under age 6.

Instead, treat your child naturally. Congestion is the biggest problem for kids with colds. In young babies, you can use a suction bulb to get mucus out of their noses. A humidifier or a steam shower before bed also helps. I’ve also had good luck using Baby Vicks on the child’s feet or chest. For kids over 1, buckwheat honey may help ease a cough.

Is there any way to ease the diarrhea my child gets when he takes antibiotics? 

I find probiotics are very beneficial for antibiotic-associated diarrhea. You can get them from yogurt made with active cultures. Studies show that probiotics can help reduce many stomach problems. There are even probiotic drops for newborns because some studies, but not all, show a benefit for colic.

My neighbor said never use a kitchen teaspoon to give my child medicine. Why not?

It’s important to be careful how much medicine you give your child. Household spoons vary greatly in size, so they aren’t accurate. Always use the little plastic cup or syringe that came with the medicine. It’s also important to read the ingredients list and follow the instructions carefully. There are many combination medicines. If you give your child two medications that share the same ingredients she could overdose. Your child could also have a reaction if you give the medicine too often. For example, don’t give your child medicine every three hours if the label says six.

How can I get my child to take medicine that she doesn’t like? 

Some pharmacies can flavor a medicine. If there’s a flavor your child really likes, your doctor can indicate that on the prescription. And sometimes a little juice or syrup can hide the taste of a medicine your child doesn’t like. But always talk to your pharmacist first. Some medicines have to be taken on an empty stomach, and some shouldn’t be taken with milk.

Rezai Nina Rezai, M.D., is a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.