Medicines for children

Coughs, colds, stomach bugs and scraped knees are all a part of growing up. They're easier to deal with if you have a few essentials to hand.

Pharmacist Brendan Nyss has seen all the typical childhood complaints at his busy pharmacy in Jersey. He gives the following advice on medicines that every parent should keep in their home.

Keep all medicines in a cool, dry place, out of sight and reach of children. Never use a medicine that's out of date. 

Your pharmacist will always answer any questions you have about medicines. If you or your child ever have problems with medicines you've taken, consult a health professional.

Remember, if you’re worried about your child, trust your instincts. Speak to your GP or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

If your GP surgery is closed, contact the out-of-hours service. If you’re still concerned, or if your GP or out-of-hours service can’t come quickly enough, take your child straight to the nearest hospital’s accident and emergency department.

Common conditions

Measured with a thermometer under the arm, normal body temperature is around 36.4°C (97.4°F).

Pain relief and raised temperature

For minor aches and pains, or a raised temperature, keep a bottle of a liquid paracetamol at home. The dosage will be clearly stated on the packaging. Never exceed the stated dose. If in doubt about the dosage, ask your pharmacist.

Ibuprofen helps to relieve pain and reduce temperature. It's available in liquid form. Some children with asthma may see their symptoms get worse if they take ibuprofen. Consult your pharmacist about this if your child has asthma. Ibuprofen shouldn't be given to a child on an empty stomach.

Never give aspirin to a child under 16, because aspirin is linked to a rare childhood disorder called Reye's syndrome. No medicine that's sold as suitable for children will contain aspirin.

Keep a thermometer handy for when your child has a high temperature.

Measured with a thermometer under the arm, normal body temperature is around 36.4°C (97.4°F).

With children under five, always measure temperature under the arm. Measured under the tongue, normal temperature is slightly higher: around 37°C (98.4°F). This may vary a bit.

Digital thermometers are quick and accurate. But a conventional thermometer placed under the arm may be easier to use on toddlers. Ear thermometers take temperature quickly and don't disturb the child, but they're expensive. They can give low readings when not placed properly in the ear, so read the instructions thoroughly.

A fever (high temperature) is:

  • In children under five, a temperature of 37.5°C (99.5F)
  • In children five and over, a temperature of 38C (100.4F) 

Learn more in What is a fever (high temperature) in children?

Always contact your GP, health visitor, practice nurse or nurse practitioner if:

  • your child has other signs of illness as well as a raised temperature
  • your baby’s temperature is 38°C (101°F) or higher (if they’re under three months)
  • your baby’s temperature is 39°C (102°F) or higher (if they’re three to six months)

Consult your GP if you're concerned.

Learn more in Treating a high temperature in children.

Cold and flu

Most colds resolve themselves within days without the need for medical treatment.

If your child has a cold that's causing a raised temperature and headache, resting will help them to recover. Make sure they drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Paracetamol will help to lower temperature and soothe a headache.

Consult your GP if the cold gets worse, if your child develops severe vomiting or diarrhoea or a skin rash, or they become unusually drowsy. See above for guidance on high temperature.

Learn more in Pregnancy and baby: coughs, colds and ear infections.

Diarrhoea and vomiting

Good home and food hygiene can help to protect your child against gastroenteritis, otherwise known as a stomach bug, or food poisoning. But however careful you are, your child is likely to get gastroenteritis at some point.

Most cases resolve themselves within a few days, without the need for medical treatment.

If your child has a mild case of gastroenteritis, you can continue with their usual daily diet. Ensure that they drink plenty of water or other liquids so that they don't become dehydrated.

If the gastroenteritis persists, get advice from a health professional, such as a GP or pharmacist, about giving oral rehydration salts. These come in sachets, and you mix them with water to make a drink. They replace vital sugars and salts in the body, and help to keep your child rehydrated.

If the diarrhoea or vomiting persists, see your GP.

Also see your GP if:

  • your child has a temperature over 38°C for three days
  • there's blood or mucus in the diarrhoea
  • your child is unusually drowsy

If in doubt, see your GP or another health professional.

Learn more in Pregnancy and baby: diarrhoea and vomiting.

Allergies and insect bites

Keep antihistamine medicines in the house to deal with hay fever and food allergies. Check with your pharmacist that the antihistamine is suitable for children, and that you're aware of the correct dosage. Liquid antihistamines are available.

Antihistamine cream will soothe an insect bite. Antihistamine eye drops or sodium cromoglicate can soothe red and inflamed eyes. Seek advice from your pharmacist before using these.

If your child has a history of anaphylactoid reactions to certain foods, your GP may prescribe an adrenaline injector pen. An anaphylactic reaction can occur after eating a range of foods, for example, nuts and shellfish. During a reaction, the lips and tongue usually swell, and breathing can become difficult.

With an adrenaline injector pen, you can give your child a shot of adrenaline if they child suffer an anaphylactic reaction. This can save lives. Your GP can advise on whether an injector pen is suitable for your child.

Accidents

Very minor burns can be treated at home, but more severe burns should be seen by a health professional.

A cooling pain-relief gel will help to relieve pain and discomfort if your child has a minor burn. Run the burn under cold water for 10 minutes first, then dry gently and apply the gel. Cover the burn with a dressing to prevent infection. If you're not sure how serious the burn is, see your GP.

An eye wash, available at your local pharmacy, will help you wash dust or grit out of your child’s eye. Seek the advice of a pharmacist before using one. Go to an eye clinic if your child is in pain or the eye remains irritated after washing.

Learn more in Safety for under fives.

Sun care

Use a sunscreen of factor 15 or more. Use it on any sunny days, and take it on holiday. When out in the sun, protect your children with sunscreen and a hat. Avoid sun exposure during the hottest part of the day, from 11am-3pm.

Make sure that your children don't burn. Sunburn is dangerous at any age, but sunburn in childhood can greatly increase the risk of skin cancer later in life.

Buy a sunscreen that gives UVA as well as UVB protection. Aftersun creams help relieve the pain of burnt skin, but a sunhat and sunscreen can help to prevent the skin from burning.

Learn more in Child safety in the sun.

More information

Make sure your first aid kit is fully stocked and ready.

If your child is unwell, there is more information in Looking after a sick child.

 

Page last reviewed: 11/04/2012

Next review due: 11/04/2014

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

SpangleStar said on 28 November 2010

Natural remedies can be just as useful, cheaper and more readily available. Search for remedies made from natural ingredients held in most kitchens. Cheap, easy and my kids prefer them to sugar sweetened medicines.

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