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Prescription Medicines

Why should your child take medicines as the doctor has prescribed them? Drugs are tools doctors use to fight infection, treat disease, and relieve pain. Medicine cabinet half openedThe right drug, however, must be given to the right child, for the right condition, and taken in the right amount (dose) and under the right circumstances to work well. Like any tool, medicines must be used properly to have the desired effect.

There are four basic elements of a prescription you should know:

  1. How much of and how often the medicine should be taken

  2. What the side effects and reactions are, if any

  3. How the medicine should be taken

  4. How the medicine should be stored

How Much and How Often
Medicines must be taken in a certain amount and at certain times to work well. This is especially true for antibiotics, which work by killing harmful bacteria or preventing them from multiplying. Your child should take the exact amount and number of doses as prescribed by the doctor. Even if your child feels better, the treatment is not complete until the prescribed amount of medicine is taken. Sometimes pharmacists will dispense more liquid medication than is needed to treat the child's illness in case the medication is spilled or measured incorrectly. If you have liquid medication left over after you have completed the course of treatment, do not "save" some for next time. Check with your child's doctor or pharmacist about what to do if you forget a dose.

Some medications (for example, pain relievers) are prescribed "as needed" and can be stopped when the child is better. However, you should never stop giving a medication without the approval of your child's doctor. Once your child is better, throw away any leftover "as needed" medications.

Be sure to measure the dose of medicine accurately. For example, a regular spoon is not the same as a measuring spoon, and you might be accidentally altering your child's dose of medicine if you confuse the two. Whenever possible, use a medication measuring spoon or a medication syringe (available from a pharmacist or pharmacy) to administer liquid medication most accurately.

Never share prescribed medicines. Even if two people have the same illness, they may require different drugs with different directions.

Side Effects and Reactions
Many medicines, such as some of those taken to relieve pain, may cause side effects such as drowsiness or sleepiness. By slowing down the response of nerves, pain medications reduce the pain, but also may reduce your child's alertness. Other medicines may cause your child to be overactive or jittery.

Allergic reactions to medications are rare, but they do occur. Penicillin and other antibiotics are among the most common drugs to cause an allergic reaction, and the most usual reactions include rash, hives, itching, and sometimes wheezing. Call your child's doctor if your child has any symptoms that seem unrelated to the condition being treated. Not all side effects are allergic reactions. Your child's doctor needs to decide if your child has an allergy and which medications should be avoided in the future.

With or Without Food?
"Take on an empty stomach": this statement means some foods may combine with the medicine and prevent it from working. An example of medication to take on an empty stomach is tetracycline, an antibiotic.

"Take with food": this statement means the medicine may upset your child's empty stomach. In these cases, food will not prevent the drug from working. An example of medicine to take with food is prednisone, an anti-inflammatory agent.

Generally, medicines should be stored in a dry area at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. Moisture, very high or low temperatures, and sunlight may cause the drug to break down and lose effectiveness. In some cases, however, the medicine will lose its effectiveness if it is not refrigerated. Medications should be kept in their original containers to avoid a mix-up.

Do not keep old prescriptions if there is any medication left over - they cannot be used later. Flush the old medication down the toilet, or otherwise dispose of it out of children's reach.

If you ever have any questions or concerns about a prescribed drug, call your child's doctor or pharmacist.