Young children are much more likely than adults to have adverse drug reactions, so giving your toddler prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication – even "herbal" medicines – is serious business. Here are some medicines you shouldn't give your 12- to 24-month-old.
Never give aspirin or medications containing aspirin to your toddler or to anyone 19 years old or younger. Aspirin can make a child susceptible to Reye's syndrome — a rare but potentially fatal illness. Don't assume that the children's medicines found in drugstores will be aspirin-free. Aspirin is sometimes referred to as "salicylate" or "acetylsalicylic acid." Read labels carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you're not sure whether a product is aspirin-free.
For fever and other discomfort, you may want to give your toddler the correct dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against giving OTC cough and cold medicines to toddlers. Studies show that they don't actually help to soothe symptoms of kids this age. And they can be harmful, especially when a child mistakenly gets more than the recommended dose.
In addition to side effects like drowsiness or sleeplessness, upset stomach, and a rash or hives, a child can suffer serious effects such as rapid heart rate, convulsions, and even death. Every year, 7,000 children under the age of 11 are treated in U.S. emergency rooms after taking too much cough or cold medication.
If your toddler's miserable with a cold, you may want to try a humidifier or other home remedies.
Don't give your toddler an anti-nausea medication (prescription or OTC) unless her doctor specifically recommends it. Most bouts of vomiting are pretty short-lived, and children usually handle them just fine without any medication. In addition, anti-nausea medications have risks and possible complications. (If your child is vomiting and begins to get dehydrated, contact her doctor for advice on what to do.)
Giving your child a smaller dose of medicine meant for an adult is dangerous. If the label doesn't indicate an appropriate dose for a child, don't give that medication to your toddler.
Any medication prescribed for someone else or for another condition
Prescription drugs intended for other people (like a sibling) or to treat other illnesses may be ineffective or even dangerous when given to your toddler. Give her only medicine prescribed for her and her specific condition.
Toss out medicines, prescription and OTC alike, as soon as they expire. Also get rid of discolored or crumbly medicines — basically anything that doesn't look the way it did when you first bought it. After the use-by date, medications may no longer be effective and can even be harmful. Don't flush old drugs down the toilet, as they can contaminate groundwater and end up in the drinking water supply. See what our expert says about how to safely dispose of expired medication.
Some medicines contain acetaminophen to help ease fever and pain, so be careful not to give your toddler an additional separate dose of acetaminophen. If you're not sure what's in a particular medicine, don't give her acetaminophen or ibuprofen until you've first gotten the okay from your doctor or pharmacist.
For most toddlers, chewable tablets are a choking hazard. If you want to use a chewable tablet, crush it first, then put it in a spoonful of soft food, like yogurt or applesauce. (Of course, you need to make sure your child eats the entire spoonful in order to get the complete dose.)
Chinese herb ma huang (ephedra or ephedrine)
Never take or give your child the Chinese herb ma huang, also known as ephedra or ephedrine. In adults this herbal decongestant has been linked to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, seizures, heart attack, and strokes.
Check with your doctor or an alternative medicine practitioner before giving your child any herbal products. And always let the doctor know about any herbal remedies your child is taking before she prescribes a medication.
Many herbal remedies are gentle and safe, but just because something is natural, or derived from a plant, doesn't mean it's safe for your child. Herbal products can cause allergic reactions, liver damage, and high blood pressure. In certain doses or when combined with the wrong medications, they can be fatal.