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Safety & Prevention

Common Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-Counter Medicines

Medicine bought in stores off the shelf is called over-the-counter or OTC medicine. Common reasons to use OTC medicines include the following:

Fever, pain

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help your child feel better if your child has head or body aches or a fever. They can also help with pain from injuries such as a bruise or sprain and from soreness caused by a needle shot.

Acetaminophen comes in liquid and chewable forms and also as a rectal suppository if your child is vomiting and can’t keep down medicine taken by mouth. Ibuprofen comes in concentrated drops for infants, liquid (in the form of syrup or elixir) for toddlers, and chewable tablets for older children.
With ibuprofen, keep in mind that infant drops are stronger (more concentrated) than syrup for toddlers. For example, more medicine is in 5 mL of infant drops than in 5 mL of syrup for toddlers. Never give the same amount of infant drops as you would syrup.
Always look carefully at the label on the drug and follow the directions. Each type of drug has different directions based on the age and weight of a child. You may need to ask your doctor about the right dose for your child. For example, you will need to ask your doctor how much acetaminophen is the right dose for a child younger than 2 years.
Make sure you do not overdose your child by giving too much acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an ingredient in many OTC and prescription medicines (eg, pain relievers, fever reducers, cough/cold medicines). If your child is taking more than one medicine, read the ingredient list to prevent double dosing.
Note: Aspirin is another medicine taken by adults for aches and fever. However, never give aspirin to your child unless your child’s doctor tells you to. Children who take aspirin may get a serious illness called Reye syndrome.

Cold and cough

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that OTC cough and cold medicines not be given to infants and small children because they have not been proven effective and can be harmful. Discuss other ways to treat cold symptoms with your doctor, such as saline nasal sprays or drops for children and bulb suctioning of the nose for babies.

Allergy, itching

 Antihistamines can be used to treat your child’s runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing due to allergies. They can also help reduce itching from chickenpox, insect bites, and other rashes including hives.

Stuffy nose

Your doctor may advise you to use saline nose drops or spray for a stuffy nose.

Rash, itching

Hydrocortisone cream or ointment is used for itching from bug bites, skin rashes such as poison ivy, and eczema.

Wound, cuts, and scrapes

Antibiotic ointment is used to prevent or control infection in wounds, cuts, and scrapes.


Many OTC treatments are available for constipation, including stool softeners, laxatives, enemas, and suppositories. Call your doctor for advice if your child is having hard stools or pain or blood with bowel movements, because some constipation medicines can be too harsh for infants and children.

Last Updated
A Guide to Your Child's Medicine (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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