over-the-counter medicationNo parent relishes the idea of having to give their child medication, but sometimes over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines can provide relief for children suffering from fever or pain. 

Some pain medications are perfectly safe for even young children, if used only occasionally. However, know that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) very clearly advises that infants and children under the age of 2 should never be administered OTC cough and cold products such as decongestants, expectorants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants due to serious and potentially life-threatening side effects can occur. 

The two main types of OTC pain relievers for children are ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Ibuprofen is marketed under names like Advil and Motrin, and most of us recognize acetaminophen as Tylenol. Children and teens should not be given aspirin because of its link to Reyes syndrome, a rare condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain.

Even common medications can have serious consequences when taken incorrectly. 

Follow the tips on the next page from the FDA and manufacturers of over-the-counter medications when giving pain medication to children—>


Follow all medication labels. 

Always read and follow all medication labels carefully. Even if you’ve given the medication dozens of times before, be aware that things can change. 

In 2011, the amount of acetaminophen in infant and children’s medicines became standardized; concentrated drops were discontinued in favor of liquid suspension. To reduce confusion, all single-ingredient liquid acetaminophen products now contain the same concentration of acetaminophen; the dosage will differ depending on age and weight.

Note “active ingredients.” 

Don’t combine medications—think cold medication and Tylenol. If both medicines contain acetaminophen, you could exceed the safe dosage. When in doubt, check with your child’s pediatrician or your child’s pharmacist.

Know your child’s weight. The dosing of many children’s medications is determined by how much they weigh. Don’t guess. It’s important to use your child’s current weight when calculating dosages. 

Use the proper tool and cap it. 

Use the proper dosing tool. Always use the dropper or cup that comes with the medication. Don’t assume a spoon from your kitchen drawer will deliver the correct dosage.

After adminstration, always replace the child-resistant cap, and make sure medicines are stored safely out of reach.

Check. Check. Check. 

Before purchasing any medication, inspect the packaging for signs of tampering. At home, read the inside label to be sure it’s the correct product and confirm the lid and seal are intact. Finally, look at the color, shape, size, and smell of the medicine. If anything seems amiss, don’t administer the medication and report the findings to your pharmacist.

Nita Crighton is a registered nurse and mom of three from Harding Township.