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Your guide to over-the-counter pain relief

Published:Thursday | November 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

When your child gets sick, you want to ease their aches and fever as soon as possible. But to do so safely, it's important to follow careful guidelines to ensure that he or she gets the correct medication in the correct dose.

If they're not used right, over-the-counter (OTC) children's medicines can cause serious and even life-threatening complications.

To make sure you are using OTC pain relievers safely for your child, follow these 12 tips.

Read the Drug Facts label every time you use a medicine.

It will tell you the active ingredients, what the drug is used for, how much to give your child, how often to give it, potential drug interactions or side effects, and when to call the doctor. Why should you read it if you've used the medicine before? Things may have changed since the last time. For example, your child may have got older or gained weight, so the proper dosage may be different this time.

Look for the active ingredient

This is what makes the medication work, and you need to know what it is and what it does. Remember that the name of the active ingredient is usually different than the brand name of the medicine. This means that two different brands of medicine can have the same active ingredient. So, it's important to be sure you are not giving your child two different medicines with the same active ingredient.

Different active ingredients can also do the same thing. For example, both acetaminophen and ibuprofen help reduce pain and fever. Knowing what the active ingredient is and what it does can also help you avoid accidentally giving your child two medicines that do the same thing.

Give the right formulation.

Medicines to help ease cold and flu symptoms are formulated differently for children and adults. You should never give an adult cold medicine to a child, not even in a smaller amount. And you should always call your doctor if your infant develops a cold or a fever.

Always follow dosage instructions

Some medication dosages are based on weight and some are based on age, so be sure to follow what the package recommends. For those based on a child's age, it's a good idea to consult with your child's doctor if your child is very light or very heavy for his age. That way, you can be sure that you are giving the right amount of medicine. Also, never give more than the recommended dose.

Only use the dosing tool that comes with the medication.

Never use a kitchen spoon or a dosing cup from a different medicine to give your child medication. Kitchen spoons can vary in size, as can dosing cups, so you can't be sure that you're giving the correct amount. If you misplace the dosing device that came with the medicine, you can talk to your pharmacist. Just be sure that the markings on the dosing device match the dose listed in the Drug Facts box on the medication label.

Know your measurement abbreviations.

When reading the label, be sure you can tell the difference between a tablespoon (tbsp) and a teaspoon (tsp), as well as between a milligram (mg), millilitre (mL), and ounce (oz).

Don't give medicine to your child in the dark.

Children are often sick at night, so it's not unusual to be half awake and fumbling for medicine in the dark. Take a minute to turn on the lights and put on your glasses, if you wear them, so that you can clearly read the medicine label and dosing device.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist before giving more than one OTC medicine.

If your child has a cough and a headache, it may seem logical to give him two medicines - one for each problem. But many cold and flu symptom remedies have the same ingredients as pain relievers. If you give your child both, it could lead to an accidental overdose. Reading the Drug Facts label can help you spot the same ingredients, but you should still check with the pharmacist or your doctor before using more than one OTC medicine.

Treat colds in infants without medication.

Children younger than 12 years who have nasal congestion can be treated with saline nasal drops or nasal spray, adequate fluids, and a cool mist humidifier instead of with OTC medications. Significant nasal blockage can be treated with nasal suction.

Don't use cough and cold products for children under two.

Do not give aspirin to children under age 18.

Giving aspirin to a child can cause a rare, life-threatening condition called Reye's syndrome. Never give an aspirin-containing product to your child unless your doctor recommends it.

If your child has had a cold for a few days and is not getting any better or gets worse, call his doctor right way. Don't give any medicine for longer than the amount of time listed on the box.

By following a few simple steps, you can help your little one recover in comfort and safety.