A spoon full of sugar might make the medicine go down, but doling out the medicine itself with a spoon as you or your mum may’ve done in the past is a strict no-no, according to current guidance on how to store and administer medicines safely.
The advice from NPS MedicineWise reveals other simple mistakes loving parents and grandparents could be making when giving children medicine and when keeping medicine in the home
The important guidance has been released for Be Medicinewise Week, an initiative that runs from August 20-26 to raise awareness of the importance of safe and wise use of medicines at home.
“Giving a child medicine can be daunting for parents and carers, because it’s so important the medicine is administered correctly and at the right dose to be effective and to avoid accidental harm,” NPS Medicinewise Medical Adviser Dr Jill Thistlethwaite says. “While most medicines are well tolerated by children, there may be side effects such as diarrhoea, for example, with some antibiotics.”
Most grandparents have been in a position where they’ve had to look after a poorly grandchild while the parents are away or at work. Unfortunately, they could be unintentionally putting their little ones in danger if they use traditional methods to administer medicine.
It’s not uncommon for carers to use a spoon to measure medicine for children, as their own parents and grandparents probably did for them, but this is now considered unsafe.
Spoons come in all sorts of sizes and don’t always give an accurate measure so carers are advised to use the dropper, oral syringe or medicine cup that’s included in the medicine package. If in doubt, always ask a health professional or pharmacist for one – even if it is for treating something such as a common cough, cold or sore throat.
Equally, always ensure the dosing device you use allows you to clearly measure the right dose.
When giving medicine, it’s also important to be aware of your grandchild’s weight, as some medication dosages are based on weight rather than age. Making a guesstimate of their weight by simply picking them up isn’t sufficiently accurate so it’s advised you use a standard bathroom scale. Of course, kids grow quickly, so it’s a good idea to weigh them regularly and keep note of their weight in case you need to administer medication in an emergency.
It’s important to double check for decimal points when it comes to dosage and to always keep a record of the medicines you’re giving a child in your care. This will ensure you’re not exceeding maximum medication limits and reduces the risk of double dosing. Simply jot down the name of the medicine, the active ingredient, the time the medicine was given and the exact dose. This information will come in handy if you need to visit a doctor down the track. There’s also a Medicinewise App for smartphones and tablets can help you manage and keep track of medicines. The MedicineWise App is free and available to download from the App store and Google play.
Another misconception is that only prescription medications can be harmful if they land in the hands of small children.
In fact, any tablets, pills, capsules, injections, implants, drops, syrups, creams or ointments can cause harm if they’re not taken correctly, regardless of whether they were prescribed by a doctor or bought over the counter from a pharmacy or supermarket. Vitamins, minerals, herbal, aromatherapy and homeopathic products are also considered to be medicines and need to be kept away from small children and administered correctly by following instructions from a doctor, pharmacist or from the packaging.
“If in doubt ask,” Dr Thistlethwaite says. “Small mistakes can cause big problems in little bodies, so remember to ask your doctor or pharmacist about how to correctly measure and administer a child’s medicine and discuss any concerns you have about the medicine and possible side effects.”
It’s always important to be responsible with medication and keep it out of reach of children. It’s recommended that all medicines are stored at least 1.5 metres from the ground and out of sight and reach of children.
It’s natural for kids to be curious, so always try to take your own medication without children seeing. Immediately after use, medication should be returned to its safe storage location and never left around the home where kids could stumble across it.
If you’ve got expired or unused medications, it’s best to safely dispose of them by taking them to your community pharmacy. Also, be sure not to give expired medication to children as ingredients can change over time and you may not be giving them the right dosage.
If a child may have accidently taken medication or you’ve given them too much, it’s important to act quickly. Contact a healthcare professional or phone the Poisons Information Centre on 12 11 26 for advice. In extreme cases, don’t hesitate to take your grandchild to the emergency department, even if they aren’t showing any symptoms of poisoning.
It’s normal for children to be curious about medication, especially if they see a carer or grandparent taking it.
Having a conversation with children is acceptable and if they do ask, it’s always best to be honest about what the medicine is for and why it’s been specifically prescribed to you. Always emphasise that medicines are only ever for the people who are taking them and remind children never to take medicine that isn’t theirs.
Medicinewise’s experts also advise against ‘glamorising’ medicines as lollies or sweets to avoid a child actively seeking them out.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.
Further help and information can be found at nps.org.au or by calling the NPS Medicines Line on 1300 633 424. Never rely on Dr Google and always use trustworthy sources of information. Find some recommended health sites below.