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Safety & Prevention

Using Over-the-Counter Medicines With Your Child

Using Over-the-Counter Medicines With Your Child Using Over-the-Counter Medicines With Your Child

"Over-the-counter" (OTC) means you can buy the medicine without a doctor's prescription. But be careful! OTC medicines can be dangerous if not taken the right way. Talk with your child's doctor before giving your child any medicine, especially the first time.

All OTC medicines have the same kind of label. The label gives important information about the medicine. It says what it is for, how to use it, what is in it, and what to watch out for. Look on the box or bottle, where it says, "Drug Facts."

Read the label

Check the chart on the label to see how much medicine to give. If you know your child's weight, use that first. Just remember that your child's weight in kilograms (kg) is different from your child's weight in pounds (lbs)!

Kilogram (kg)
Pounds (lbs)

If you do not know your child's weight, go by age. Check the label to make sure it is safe for children under age 6. If you are not sure, ask your child's doctor.

Talk with the doctor or pharmacist

Before you give your child any medicines, be sure you know how to use them.

Questions to ask

What to tell your child's doctor or pharmacist

  • If your child is taking any other medicines.

  • If your child has any problems when taking a medicine.

Call the doctor right away if...

Your child throws up a lot or gets a rash after taking any medicine. Even if a medicine is safe, your child may be allergic to it.

Your child may or may not have side effects with any medicine. Be sure to tell the doctor if your child has any side effects.

About pain and fever medicines

Acetaminophen (uh-SET-tuh-MIN-uh-fin) and ibuprofen (eye-byoo-PROH-fin) help with fever and headaches or body aches. Tylenol is one brand name for acetaminophen. Advil and Motrin are brand names for ibuprofen. These medicines also can help with pain from bumps, or soreness from a shot. Ask the doctor which one is best for your child.

Keep in mind:

  • Never give ibuprofen to a baby younger than 6 months.

  • If your child has kidney disease, asthma, an ulcer, or another chronic (long-term) illness, ask the doctor before giving ibuprofen.

  • Don't give acetaminophen or ibuprofen at the same time as other OTC medicines, unless your child's doctor says it's OK.

A warning about aspirin

Never give aspirin to your child unless your child's doctor tells you it is safe. Aspirin can cause a very serious liver disease called Reye syndrome. This is especially true for children with the flu or chickenpox.

Ask your pharmacist about other medicines that may contain aspirin. Or, contact the National Reye's Syndrome Foundation at 1-800-233-7393 or

What about cough and cold medicines?

Over-the-counter cough or cold medicines are not recommended for children under age 6.

It's also important to know that cold medicines often have more than one medicine mixed together in one bottle. This may include medicine for fever or pain, like acetaminophen. For this reason, do not give a medicine for fever or pain if you already gave a cold medicine that has a fever or pain medicine in it. It is usually best to give one medicine at a time.

Other safety tips when using OTC medicines

  • Use the dosing tool that comes with the medicine to measure out the medicine. Keep your tool with your medicine so you remember to use them together.

  • Keep medicines up and away, and out of sight of young children. That way they don't get into them when you are not watching.

  • Use a log to keep track of what times you gave medicine to your child. This is especially helpful when there is more than one person taking care of a child. It is easy to accidentally give a double dose of medicine! Work with other caregivers to plan how you will keep track of what medicines are given, how much was given, and when.

  • Check the medicine label and read the expiration dates. The expiration date is the date after which the medicine should no longer be used. Expired medicines may not work as well and can hurt your child.

What to do for poisoning

You can call the Poison Center in any state at 1-800-222-1222 at any time of day or night.

Call the Poison Center if you're not sure

Sometimes parents find their child with something in his or her mouth. Or parents may find their child with an open bottle of medicine. The Poison Center can help you find out if this could hurt your child. Do not wait until your child is sick to call the Poison Center.

Call 911 or your local emergency number right away if your child:

  • Is passed out and can't wake up, OR

  • Is having a lot of trouble breathing, OR

  • Is twitching or shaking out of control, OR

  • Is acting very strange.

Don't use syrup of ipecac

If you have syrup of ipecac in your home, flush it down the toilet and throw away the bottle. Years ago, people used syrup of ipecac to make children throw up if they swallowed poison. Now we know that you should not make a child throw up.

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Quality Improvement and Patient Safety (Copyright © 2021)
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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