Medicines aren't always needed for childhood illnesses. Most illnesses get better by themselves, and make your child stronger and able to resist similar illnesses in the future.
Painkillers for children
Paracetamol and ibuprofen are often used to relieve the discomfort caused by a high temperature.
Some children, such as those with asthma, may not be able to take ibuprofen, so check with your pharmacist, GP or health visitor.
Both paracetamol and ibuprofen are safe and effective. Always have one or both stored in a safe place at home.
Don't give aspirin to children under 16 unless it's specifically prescribed by a doctor.
It has been linked with a rare but dangerous illness called Reye's syndrome.
If you're breastfeeding, ask your health visitor, midwife or GP for advice before taking aspirin.
Paracetamol for children
Paracetamol can be given to children over two months old for pain and fever. Make sure you've got the right strength for your child. Overdosing is dangerous. Check with your pharmacist when you buy it, and read the label carefully.
Ibuprofen for children
Ibuprofen can be given for pain and fever in children of three months and over who weigh more than 5kg (11lbs). Check the correct dose for your child's age. Avoid ibuprofen if your child has asthma, unless advised by your GP.
Antibiotics for children
Children don't often need antibiotics. Most childhood infections are caused by viruses, and antibiotics only treat illnesses caused by bacteria, not viruses.
If you're offered a prescription, especially an antibiotic, talk to your GP about why it's needed, how it will help, and whether there are any alternatives. Ask about any possible side effects – for example, whether it will make your child sleepy or irritable.
If your child is prescribed antibiotics, always finish the whole course to make sure all the bacteria are killed off.
Your child may seem better after two or three days, but if the course is five days, they must carry on taking the medicine. The illness is more likely to return if you don't finish all the antibiotics.
Child medicine dosages
Make sure you know how much and how often to give a medicine. Writing it in your child's Personal Child Health Record (PCHR, or red book) may help you remember.
See Your baby's health and development reviews for more information on the red book.
If in doubt, check with your pharmacist or GP. Never give the medicine more frequently than recommended by your GP or pharmacist.
With liquids, always measure out the right dose for your child's age. The instructions will be on the bottle.
Sometimes liquid medicine may have to be given using a special spoon or liquid medicine measure. This allows you to give small doses of medicine more accurately.
Never use a kitchen teaspoon, as they vary in size. Ask your pharmacist or health visitor to explain how a measure should be used.
Always read the manufacturer's instructions supplied with the measure, and always give the exact dose stated on the medicine bottle. If in doubt, ask the pharmacist for help.
If you buy medicines at the pharmacy:
- Always tell the pharmacist how old your child is. Some medicines are for adult use only.
- Always follow the instructions on the label or ask the pharmacist if you're unsure.
- Ask for sugar-free medicines if they're available.
- Look for the date stamp. Don't use out-of-date medicines. If you have any out-of-date medicines at home, take them back to the pharmacy for safe disposal.
Only give your child medicine given to you by your GP, pharmacist or usual healthcare professional. Never use medicines prescribed for anyone else.
Keep all medicines out of your child's reach and out of sight, if possible. The kitchen is a good place to keep medicines as it's easy for you to keep an eye on them there. Put them in a place where they won't get warm.
Children and side effects from medicine
If you think your child is reacting badly to a medicine – for example, with a rash or diarrhoea – stop giving it to them and speak to a health professional.
If you're worried that a symptom may be a side effect of a medicine:
- read the patient information leaflet supplied with the medicine – this lists the known side effects and advises you what to do
- call NHS 111, or speak to a pharmacist or your GP or practice nurse
- report the side effect through the Yellow Card Scheme – the scheme is run by the UK medicines watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA); Yellow Card reports are used as an early warning system to collect information on side effects and take necessary action to protect the public if there is a problem
Keep a note of the medicine's name in your child's red book for future reference.
Can you get over-the-counter children's medicines for free?
Some pharmacies run what's known as a minor ailment scheme for specific ailments, such as coughs and colds and diarrhoea and vomiting.
When pharmacies provide medicines as part of a minor ailment scheme, you get the medicines on the NHS. You won't pay a prescription charge for children under 16.
Not all pharmacies offer a minor ailment scheme and the ailments covered by the scheme vary from area to area.
Read more about the minor ailments scheme.