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Medicines for children

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

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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.

If your child experiences any problems with medicines they have taken, consult your pharmacist who will either be able to advise you or refer you to another healthcare professional.

Remember, if you're worried about your child, trust your instincts. Speak to your GP or call the NHS number 111.

If you need to seek advice from your GP and your GP surgery is closed, contact the out-of-hours service. If your GP or out-of-hours service can't come quickly enough and you are very concerned for your child's health, take them to the nearest hospital's accident and emergency department.

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 are worried 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 name of the medicine in your child's Personal Child Health Record book (sometimes known as "the red book") so you can avoid it in future.

Common conditions in children

Relieving pain and lowering your child's 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. It's important that you check this and never exceed the stated dose. If you're unsure about how much you should give your child, ask your pharmacist.

Ibuprofen helps to relieve pain and reduce temperature. It is available in liquid form. Although usually ibuprofen should be given with or immediately after food, some forms can be given without food. As with any medicine, it's important to always read and follow the instructions on the label and inside leaflet carefully before giving it to your child. If you have any concerns about what you read in the leaflet available in the pack, speak to a pharmacist in the first instance, who may refer you to another healthcare professional if necessary. 

Ibuprofen is not suitable for children who have previously had a hypersensitivity reaction (such as asthma) after taking ibuprofen or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). If your child has asthma or a liver, heart, kidney or bowel problem, consult your pharmacist or GP before giving them ibuprofen.

Paracetamol also shouldn't be taken by anyone who has had a previous hypersensitivity reaction (such as asthma) to it. NICE guidelines recommend giving either ibuprofen or paracetamol for feverish children. However, ibuprofen is not suitable for all children (such as those under three months), so for some children paracetamol will be the only choice.

Aspirin and children 

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

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

Measuring your child's temperature

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

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

Measured with a thermometer under the arm, normal body temperature is around 36.4C (97.5F).

For children under the age of five years old, always measure temperature under the arm. Measured under the tongue, normal temperature is slightly higher: around 37C (98.6F). This can vary slightly depending on things like what time of day it is and what your child has been doing. 

A fever (high temperature) is:

  • in children under five years old, a temperature of 37.5C (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 38C (100.4F) or higher (if they're under three months old)
  • your baby's temperature is 39C (102.2F) or higher (if they're over three months old)

Consult your GP if you're concerned.

Learn more in Treating a high temperature in children.

Treating colds and flu in children

Most colds resolve themselves within a week or so without the need to see your GP. Get advice from a pharmacist, as they'll be able to advise you on whether an over-the-counter medicine may be appropriate or they may just provide some advice, such as taking plenty of fluids and painkillers.

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. If your child complains of a severe headache or a stiff neck, this may need immediate medical attention by either a GP or A&E department.

Giving your child paracetamol or ibuprofen will help to lower their temperature and soothe a headache. Antibiotics are not an effective treatment for colds and flu.

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 in children

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 a visit to a GP.

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 pharmacist or GP, 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 38C (100.4F) 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 in children

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 are aware of the correct dosage. Liquid antihistamines are available.

Antihistamine creams 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 anaphylactic 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 suffer an anaphylactic reaction. This can save lives. Your GP can advise on whether an injector pen is suitable for your child.

If your child is involved in an accident

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 cool 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 or other healthcare professional, such as your pharmacist.

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.

Protect your child from the sun

Use a sunscreen of factor 30 or more. The British Association of Dermatologists recommends that children or people with pale skin use SPF 50 sunscreen. 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. Seek the advice of a pharmacist if purchasing sunscreens for a child. 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.

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices