Medicines Can Be Powerful Lifesavers, But Can Lead to Danger for Children 

By: Belinda Burchick, RPH, BPharm

Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines (non-prescription) can relieve symptoms, manage your health condition and even save your life. On the flip side, medicines can be deadly if ingested by children, especially if given in too high of a dosage or if taken unintentionally. As a result, about 50,000 U.S. children end up in the Emergency Room each year. 

Many common medicines, such as ones used for pain, heart and diabetes can have toxic effects. Even over-the-counter medications, such as vitamins, can be fatal to the very young.   

Below are some medication safety tips for anyone who may have children around:  

  • Store all medications on a high shelf, in a locked cabinet. Consider a lockable container. 
  • It is important to use medicine containers with safety caps and keep them out of reach of children.  Out of sight, out of mind. 
  • After taking medicines, immediately put back in safe storage.  
  • If a medication spills, clean the area immediately. If you drop a pill, do everything you can to locate lost pill. Vacuum or sweep the area. It is best to take medicine over a bowl or sink. 
  • Remind visitors such as, grandparents, friends, and babysitters, to keep coats and bags with them or up and out of reach of the children as they may contain medication. 

 A larger percentage of the Emergency Room visits are from giving too much dosage of a medication to a child. The dosage can be different for every child.  Consider their weight and age, and other medications they are taking.  Measure dose accurately for a child to prevent overdosage, and use a dosage syringe or dosage spoon, not a regular kitchen spoon.  Ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider about the correct dose for your child. 

When buying an over-the-counter medicine, look for the ingredients on the label, usually in small print, to make sure you are not doubling up. Acetaminophen can be alone and included in other cold and sinus remedies.  Also, read label for dosage based on age and weight. If minimum age is listed, and child is below this minimum age, please do not give medicine and consult your pharmacist or health care provider. 

 As a general rule, avoid giving child unnecessary medicines, such as, symptom relief medicines, unless child needs it or it is prescribed by their healthcare provider. 

  If child is unconscious, not breathing, or having convulsions or seizures due to possible poison contact or ingestion, call 911 

 If a child has come in contact with a poison and has mild or no symptoms, call the Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222, open 24/7. Poison Control is a government-funded service staffed by nurses or pharmacists who are specially trained to assist callers who have been potentially poisoned.  They will ask you the following questions: age of the patient, your relationship to the patient, presence of symptoms, name and strength of the product (read the label for ingredients), container size, amount of exposure, and contact information such as name, phone number and zip code of the patient. The specialist will guide you on whether it is appropriate to call 911, go to the hospital, or if there is a way to counteract the poisoning with an antidote or prevent it from getting worse. Poison Control centers manage calls regarding snake and insect bites, food poisoning, sun poisoning and accidental ingestion of medicines and any contact with potential poisons. 

 Medicine can help, if in the right hands and taken at the right dose.  Take caution.