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Medicines for your child

5-minute read

Most parents get used to dealing with their children’s minor illnesses such as colds, flu, vomiting and aches and pains, which are a normal part of childhood.

Most parents get used to dealing with their children’s minor illnesses such as colds, aches and pains, which are a normal part of childhood.

When these problems don't appear serious enough to require a visit to the doctor, the best home treatment is often rest, care, comfort and plenty to drink. Most minor illnesses will go away naturally.

Some over-the-counter medicines may help relieve the symptoms, but they can be costly and may be no more effective than simple home treatments. If you think that your child’s symptoms warrant medicine, it is best to get advice from a pharmacist or doctor.

Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24/7) if you think your child has accidentally taken medication or has taken the wrong dose. If your child stops breathing, loses consciousness or is having seizures, call an ambulance on triple zero (000) immediately.

Over-the-counter medicines

If you buy over-the-counter medicines, remember to always follow the written instructions carefully and to follow dosages recommended for children of different ages. Ask your pharmacist for advice.

Analgesics

Analgesics are pain relief medicines that you should only give to your child if pain is causing them obvious distress.

If you use an analgesic, it is very important to stay within the recommended dose. Too much can be dangerous, even fatal. Frequent use, even at the recommended dose, can also be harmful to your child.

Most over-the-counter analgesics are forms of paracetamol or ibuprofen.

If you think your child needs an analgesic, use a paracetamol preparation or ibuprofen (only for children over 3 months and not if your child has asthma). You should not give children under 16 years aspirin except on your doctor’s advice. Aspirin may have serious side effects in children.

Analgesics may relieve pain from:

However, you should first discuss analgesic use with your doctor if your child has:

If your child is already taking prescribed medicine, it’s best to check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving her any paracetamol or ibuprofen.

What the doctor prescribes for your child

If you have any concerns about your child’s health, it is best to see a doctor. If medicine is needed, you will receive a prescription and your doctor should tell you:

  • the full name of the medicine
  • what illness it treats
  • how often it should be taken
  • if it is best taken before or after meals
  • for how long your child should take it
  • if there are any possible side effects

Make sure you tell your doctor about any other medicine your child is taking, for example cough mixtures or painkillers bought over the counter, or any complementary medicines or vitamins or supplements. They might affect the prescribed medicine. Also let the doctor know if your child has any allergies.

Be sure that medicine prescribed for your child’s particular illness is not taken by anyone else.

Children do not always react to medicines in the expected way. If you think a medicine is not working or if side effects occur, such as rashes, stomach pains, diarrhoea or drowsiness, let your doctor know.

If there are severe side effects, contact the doctor immediately. Don’t stop the medicine or change the dose, except on medical advice, as such actions may harm your child.

If your child has difficulty swallowing pills, ask your doctor if the prescribed medicine comes in another form. Small children sometimes spit medicines out or refuse to swallow them. If this happens and you think your child is not receiving the recommended dose of medicine, ask your doctor for advice.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics treat illnesses that are caused by bacteria. They don't work against illnesses such as colds or flu, which are caused by viruses.

If an antibiotic is prescribed, it is important to take it as directed so that all of the bacteria are destroyed. Otherwise any remaining bacteria may develop resistance to the medicine and create problems for treatment if the infection happens again.

Medication for other problems

Constipation: A child who does not have a bowel motion every day is not necessarily constipated.

Constipation problems can be kept to a minimum if your child eats plenty of fibre, which means plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread and cereals. Drinking plenty of water is also helpful. So is regular exercise.

If your child feels pain or discomfort from constipation, it is best not to give them over-the-counter laxatives. Instead, see your doctor to find the cause of the problem and get the right treatment.

Sleeping problems: If your child is having sleeping problems, talk to your doctor or child health nurse.

Unless medically advised to, it is best not to give sedating antihistamines such as Vallergan or Phenergan to children, especially babies, as they may be unsafe. They can also cause over-activity and nightmares.

Do not give your child alcohol as it is likely to harm your child’s health.

Vitamins: If your child eats a balanced healthy diet, vitamin supplements are not needed. Large doses of added vitamins may harm your child’s health.

Storing medicines

  • Keep all medicines out of your child’s reach, preferably in a locked child-proof cabinet.
  • Keep medicines in the labelled containers they came in.
  • Don't use medicines beyond their use-by-date. Ask your pharmacist to dispose of out-of-date medicines.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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