Your children on medicine: all you need to know

Posted on 5 July 2018

A sick child is every parent’s nightmare. But helping your kids develop a healthy attitude to taking medicine is the first step to ensuring a speedy recovery.

Unless your children have superhuman immunity, they’ll inevitably be exposed to medicines early on. It’s vital to ensure you’re giving them the correct doses. “The stage of life and the maturity of various organ systems significantly influences the administration, absorption, metabolism and elimination of a drug from a child’s body,” explains Dr Raj Naranbhai, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Victoria.

The right dosage

There are various factors when it comes to prescribing the correct dosage of medicine, he says, namely:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Indications for the use of a specific drug
  • Co-prescribed medicines
  • The ability of parent or caregiver to administer doses
  • The willingness of the child to take medicines.

“This is heavily influenced by the illness and by the child’s tolerability to the medication,” says Dr Naranbhai. “Also remember that many medications for children are used off-label – in a way not specified in the approved package label or insert – which is still considered safe for the child when prescribed by a doctor.”

Medicine through the ages
Dr Naranbhai explains how medicines are administered from birth to adolescence:

Preterm infants: There are very few studies on the use of medicines in infants born prematurely. Drugs are usually given intravenously or orally via nasogastric or orogastric tubes – entering the stomach via the nose or via the mouth. Dosages are carefully measured since the margin of error is minute.

Full-term infants: Few medications are used. These include lifesaving antibiotics, antiretroviral medications and pain medications. Common cough medicines and suppositories are not used in neonates (infants in the first 30 days of life).

Infants under one year: It’s usually easy to give oral medicines unless the baby is vomiting. Older infants may sometimes require suppositories for the control of fever.

The Dos and Don’ts

Follow the instructions on how and when to take the medications correctly. “If you’re unsure, ask the healthcare professional to give written instructions,” suggests Dr Naranbhai. “Avoid antibiotics as far as possible. However, when an antibiotic is prescribed, the full course must be completed. Medicines should be stored safely out of reach of children, especially toddlers. Avoid using old or expired meds and don’t repeat a doctor’s previous prescription unless discussed and sanctioned by the doctor.”

In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Paediatrics, 85% of over 2 100 parents were found to make at least one dosing error in administering liquid medications. To counteract this, parents should ensure they understand instructions and use medication syringes as this facilitates exact measurements and ensures all medicine goes into the child’s mouth.

Raising medicine-receptive children

When giving your children medicine, it’s all about attitude and strategy. “Give the medicine to the child in a matter-of-fact manner,” says Dr Naranbhai. “Don’t go at it apologetically or in a threatening manner. Distract him or her whilst putting the dose into the mouth. Administration via an oral syringe may make it easier to place the dose at the back of the mouth.”

Many resort to mixing medicine with something their child likes, but this can be counterproductive. “Sometimes, the dose can be mixed in a very small quantity of fruit puree or cereal or added to a drink that the child is not familiar with,” says Dr Naranbhai. “Adding it to the child’s favourite food or drink may put the child off that item for a considerable period though!”

“Nasal and eye medication may be inserted when the child is asleep, as in the case of inhaled or nebulised meds.”

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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