Can OTC Medications Hurt Your Child?

Take care when administering OTC medications to your sick child.

Medications purchased without a doctor’s prescription are considered over the counter (OTC) medications.  Even though you don’t need a physician’s order to obtain these medications, take care when giving them to your children.  They contain strong ingredients that can damage your child’s health status if used improperly.  Always read labels, specific usages, and dosages carefully and if in doubt, call your pediatrician.

Relief for Fever, Aches, and Pains

Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are two of the most effective drugs for reducing fever and relieving body aches and headaches.  You can give your child these one of these to relieve pain from a sprain or injection site as well.  Common brand names for ibuprofen are Motrinand Advil.  Many people know acetaminophen as Tylenol.  Both medications come in concentrated drops for infants and liquids for toddlers.  Chewable tablets are available for older children.  Keep in mind that the infant drops contain a higher concentration of medication than the liquid formulations.  For instance, a teaspoon of infant drops contains a much higher dose of medicine than a teaspoon of liquid.  Follow the dosage guidelines printed on the label carefully.  These are based on the age and weight of the child.  If your child is under two years old, you may need to contact your local pediatric clinic for dosage amounts.

Acetaminophen Warning

Many pain and cough and cold remedies available over the counter contain acetaminophen as do many prescription formulations.  Do not inadvertently give your child an overdose by giving him two medicines containing acetaminophen.  Always read ingredient labels to avoid this dangerous situation.  Acetaminophen overdose can cause severe liver damage or even death.

Is Baby Aspirin Safe?

While adults can safely use aspirin to relieve fever, aches, and pains, never give aspirin (even baby aspirin) to your child unless specifically told to do so by your pediatrician.  Children may develop a serious, and sometimes fatal, condition called Reye Syndrome from taking aspirin.

Relief for Cough and Cold Symptoms

As a parent, you want your child relieved from his miserable coughing and other related cold symptoms, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents avoid administering OTC cough and cold medicines to their children.  The AAP cites that the effectiveness of these remedies in infants and young children is not proven and may, instead, harm children.  Talk to your child’s pediatrician about other methods to relieve these symptoms including saline nasal sprays and drops or using a bulb to suction mucus from an infant’s nostrils.

Relief from Allergy Symptoms

Antihistamines, such as diphengydramine, loratadine, and cetirizine, are all effective for relief of sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes caused by allergies.  BenadrylClaritin, andZyrtec represent just three of the antihistamine brand names available OTC in strengths especially for children.  You can use these to relieve itching caused by rash, hives, chickenpox, or insect bites as well.  Some antihistamines, such as diphengydramine, cause drowsiness; so you may want to avoid giving it to your child in the morning before school or other times where alertness is necessary.

Relief for Skin Itching and Minor Wounds

Topical hydrocortisone creams, such as Cortaid and others are effective in relieving the itching caused by insect bites, eczema, and contact dermatitis caused by poison ivy or similar plants.

Antibiotic ointments prevent and attenuate infection in minor cuts and scrapes.  Apply the ointment directly to the clean wound and cover with a adhesive bandage.  Neosporin andBacitracin are two of the many antibiotic ointments available OTC.

When In Doubt

If you feel that your child’s condition is too severe to treat with OTC remedies, or if his symptoms remained unchanged or are worsening even with the use of OTC medications, call your pediatrician or head to the emergency room as soon as possible.

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  1. #1 by Kelev on April 20, 2011 - 12:15 AM

    Samantha, this piece indicates that you are, like every conscientious person, concerned about pain being casued to our children. Circumcision is irrefutably painful, and many of the people promoting it for so-called “medical” reasons actually fetishize that pain. People like Brian Morris, Edgar Schoen, as well as Jake Waskett, the person you compliment in your recent piece on circumcision, are members of a group whose websites feature circumcision-related pornography. Stories on their pages include smut about young boys being drugged and circumcised while those present masturbate. Is this type of thing consistent with your beliefs? What about your professional ethics as someone who works in the field of medicine? Are we to assume that you support the fetishism these men promote as much as you support their “research?”

    • #2 by Samantha Gluck on April 20, 2011 - 1:09 AM

      Thank you so much for visiting my site and for taking the time to comment. I am concerned about adults, children, unborn babies, and virtually all human life. I don’t know Misters Waskett, Schoen, and Morris at all. I do know that Mr. Waskett delivers authoritative, concise arguments for the decision to circumcise. He cites his commentary with links that one can easily read and evaluate for themselves. I believe that parents should have the right to decide to circumcise their boys as infants, just as they should have the right to immunize their infants regardless of controversy surrounding certain vaccines. Additionally, I also respect and welcome opinions that are contrary to my own and others, provided it remains free of personal accusations, unproven rumor, and offensive language. Please comment away on this site as well regarding the practice of circumcision. Please keep commentary about circumcision limited to the comment section on articles addressing that issue.

  2. #3 by DebrasDollars on April 20, 2011 - 5:55 AM

    Today I actually learned something so thank you! I had no idea that the infant drops contain a higher concentration of medication than the liquid formulations.

    Recently at the store I picked up a box of infant Tylenol and a box of infant Motrin. Both had different recommendations as far as age to be administered. I chose the infant Motrin as my daughter didn’t meet the recommended age for the infant Tylenol. (I was shocked to read and learn that there was an age difference between 2 OTC medications for infants). This is why I always read the medication before I buy it. I always double check the dosage before administering it to my children as I may have a look-alike in my cabinet with different dosages but similar label just like the 2 OTC fever reducers (different brands) at the store. As with any other illness besides a fever I always consult my childrens pediatricians.

    Thanks for sharing this. People need to be reminded to read the labels and directions and recommendations of all medications even OTC so they can take them or administer them safely.

    • #4 by Samantha Gluck on April 20, 2011 - 12:05 PM


      I’m so glad you learned something from my article. Unfortunately, many do not realize that infant drops are more concentrated than liquids. In fact, babies and young children have actually died, due to liver damage caused by overdose of these products when unsuspecting parents incorrectly dosed the medication. It is always best to read labels first (even if you’ve read them in the past as the formula may have changed) and/or consult with your pediatrician before administering medicines to babies and children. I really appreciate your stopping by! Good to see you here. I’ll connect with you soon on your wonderful website or on voiceboks. :-)


  3. #5 by ramona on April 22, 2011 - 3:33 PM

    great post! something all parents need to stay up to date on! also, cant login to my darn voice boks account! trying to figure it out…

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