Young children are much more likely than adults to have adverse drug reactions, so giving your toddler prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication – even "herbal" medicines – is serious business. Should your curious toddler accidentally ingest any harmful medication, be sure to keep the number for Poison Control posted near your phone. Here are some medicines you should never give your 12- to 24-month-old.
Never give aspirin or medications containing aspirin to your toddler or to anyone 19 years old or younger. Aspirin can make a child susceptible to Reye's syndrome – a rare but potentially fatal illness.
Don't assume that the children's medicines found in drugstores will be aspirin-free. Read labels carefully (aspirin is sometimes referred to as "salicylate" or "acetylsalicylic acid"), and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you're not sure whether a product is aspirin-free.
For fever and other discomfort, you may want to give your toddler the correct dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. However, if your child is dehydrated or vomiting, has asthma, kidney problems, an ulcer, or another long-term illness, talk to your doctor before giving ibuprofen. Also talk with your doctor about an alternative to acetaminophen if your child has liver disease.
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against giving OTC cough and cold medicines to toddlers. Studies show that they don't actually help soothe symptoms in kids this age. And they can be harmful, especially when a child mistakenly gets more than the recommended dose.
In addition to side effects like drowsiness or sleeplessness, upset stomach, and a rash or hives, a child can suffer serious effects such as rapid heart rate, convulsions, and even death. Every year, thousands of children end up in emergency rooms across the nation after swallowing too much cough and cold medicine.
However, over the past few years emergency visits involving infants and toddlers who take too much of these medications have dropped in half. Health experts attribute the drop to manufacturers, who no longer market cough and cold medicines to young children. If your toddler's miserable with a cold, you may want to try a humidifier or other home remedies.
Don't give your toddler an anti-nausea medication (prescription or OTC) unless her doctor specifically recommends it. Most bouts of vomiting are pretty short-lived, and children usually handle them just fine without any medication. In addition, anti-nausea medications have risks and possible complications. (If your child is vomiting and begins to get dehydrated, contact her doctor for advice on what to do.)
Infant and adult medications
Giving your toddler a smaller dose of medicine meant for an adult is as dangerous as giving a higher dose of medicine meant for an infant. Many parents don't realize that infant drops are more concentrated than liquid medicine intended for older children. If the label doesn't indicate an appropriate dose for the weight and age of your child, don't give that medication to your toddler.
Any medication prescribed for someone else or for another condition
Prescription drugs intended for other people (like a sibling) or to treat other illnesses may be ineffective or even dangerous when given to your toddler. Give your toddler only medicine prescribed for him and his specific condition.
Toss out medicines, prescription and OTC alike, as soon as they expire. Also get rid of discolored or crumbly medicines – basically anything that doesn't look the way it did when you first bought it. After the use-by date, medications may no longer be effective and can even be harmful.
In general, it's not a good idea to flush old drugs down the toilet, as they may contaminate groundwater and end up in the drinking water supply. However, a few drugs are so potentially harmful to children that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends disposing of them in the toilet rather than the trash.
Look at the label of the medicine to find out if it should be flushed. If you're not sure, ask your pharmacist what to do with it or find out if your community has a drug take-back program for old and expired medicines.
If a drug doesn't need to be flushed and no take-back program is available, empty the contents of the medicine bottle into a sealed container with something unpalatable (like kitty litter or coffee grounds) before throwing it out. Don't crush tablets or capsules when you mix the medicine with the undesirable substance. Remove any personal information from the empty bottle before disposing of it alongside the sealed container of medicine in the trash.
Some medicines contain acetaminophen to help ease fever and pain, so be careful not to give your toddler an additional separate dose of acetaminophen. If you're not sure what's in a particular medicine, don't give her acetaminophen or ibuprofen until you've first gotten the okay from your doctor or pharmacist.
For most toddlers, chewable tablets are a choking hazard. If you want to use a chewable tablet, ask your child's doctor or pharmacist if it's okay to crush it first and put in a spoonful of soft food, like yogurt or applesauce. (Remember that you'll need to make sure your child eats the entire spoonful of food in order to get the complete dose of medicine.)
Syrup of ipecac
Syrup of ipecac causes vomiting and used to be kept handy to prevent poisoning. Doctors no longer recommend syrup of ipecac mainly because there's no evidence that vomiting helps in the treatment of poisoning. In fact, syrup of ipecac may do more harm than good if a child continues to vomit after ingesting a remedy that has been shown to help, such as activated charcoal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends throwing out any syrup of ipecac you have in your home and says the best way to prevent accidental poisoning is to keep potentially harmful substances locked up and out of sight.