For all mothers and fathers out there, it’s no doubt distressing when your child falls ill. Your main concern might be to combat the illness, and then get him back to school (and out of your hair).
It's important to remember however that children are not small adults! Studies suggest that most parents make major dosing errors when they’re giving their kids medication. Of note, paracetamol overdose is still among the top 3 most common drug-related emergencies seen at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital's A&E department.
Here are 5 must-know tips when giving medication to children:
1. Do not use kitchen spoons to measure out liquid medication
It's always convenient to reach for usual dining spoons, especially when medicine is to be taken after food (saves washing another spoon, right). But that’s a big no-no!
A tablespoon contains 3 times as much liquid as a teaspoon – you might be giving your child 3 times the needed dose!
As a guide:
- 1 teaspoon (tsp) is 5 mL
- 1 tablespoon (tbsp) is 15 mL
(You may notice that the abbreviations for "teaspoon" and "tablespoon" look alike! Always double-check with your pharmacist or doctor if you’re unsure)
Depending on where you get the medication from, some labels might read as "Take 1 teaspoon", whereas others might be "Take 5 ml".
Your teaspoon at home may not contain the same amount as mine. I've seen teeny tiny teaspoons in use before! Those are not "real" teaspoons! Plus, what you think is a "full" teaspoon may differ from a pharmacist's view.
Your safest bet would be to use:
- Those double-headed plastic spoons that you can usually get from your doctor’s office or pharmacy for free (free!)
- A plastic calibrated syringe (good for small volumes)
- Any calibrated measuring container that comes packaged with the medication
2. Do not self-medicate very young children
For children below 2 or 3 years of age, it's usually recommended for them to seek medical attention from a doctor when ill.
Over-the-counter medicine should only be used for adults, and older children under the advice of a pharmacist.
Young children are physiologically very different from adults. Giving them OTC medications could lead to bad outcomes, as the way their body processes medicine is different.
3. Use a child-safe container, or keep medicine out of reach
If you have young children at home, chances are they are full of energy and always wanting to explore new territory, or break open new things.
Unfortunately, this includes medicine bottles. Tablets often look like candy to children!
Make sure bottles have a child-safe locking mechanism (those that need you to squeeze or press down on the lid to twist open the bottle, yes those that make your palms hurt).
If not, store medication out of reach of children. This means preferably not at their eye level, or where they can climb and access. Do it under lock and key if you must! Wouldn’t want to risk poisoning, would you?
4. Don’t "add-on" medication for children
Good on you if you took your child to the doctor, and got prescribed some medication to take home. But perhaps junior is still not recovering well.
Do not be tempted to give more of the same medication. Oral medications usually take about 30 - 60 minutes to work. Giving more will not result in the medication working faster.
Do not be tempted to add on other medications you find at home for your child either! Although branded differently, it may contain the same ingredients as what your doctor prescribed. Your child might end up taking too much of the same medicine, which can be dangerous.
If your child still does not feel well after a few days on medication, take him to the doctor instead (or call the clinic to speak to the doctor about it).
5. In the event of an overdose
In the event of an accidental overdose of medicine, children should be rushed to the hospital. Doctors will try to minimise the absorption of the medication into the body by:
- Pumping the stomach
- Inducing the child to vomit
- Giving oral activated charcoal
If the medicine is absorbed into the bloodstream, an antidote will be given.
Remember that children are not small adults, and extra care must be taken when feeding them medicine. If in doubt, always consult the pharmacist before buying any medication for your children.
Share this with your friends and family, or anyone who cares for children at home!
Sarah is a fully registered pharmacist with the Singapore Pharmacy Council. She’s currently working towards completing a further degree in public health. Things that excite her include a good book, a good cup of coffee and being able to help people use medicines safely.