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Can You Give Adult Medicine to Children at a Lower Dose?

How Are Adult Medicines And Childrens' Medicines Different?

Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology Profile Photo

Written by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology on October 19, 2021

When giving medication, there are many different guidelines to follow in order to ensure that your child is safe. If your child is feeling ill, it’s natural to want to get them feeling better as soon as possible, but what if that means giving your child adult medication at a lower dose?

Can you give adult medicine to children at a lower dose, or is doing so considered unsafe?

We’ve put together a guide of tips to keep your child safe while giving them the medication that they need to feel better as quickly as possible.

Can You Give Adult Medicine To Children at a Lower Dose?

While it may be tempting to think that children are simply small adults and can process medicine in the same way, there are significant differences in the way that children and adults process medication. As a result, you cannot give adult medicine to children at a lower dose. The risk increases the younger your children are, with the highest risk associated with giving infants adult medicine.

Adult medications are specially formulated to be processed by an adult body. Because children’s bodies are less developed than adult’s bodies, they may experience different side effects or more severe side effects than an adult taking the same medication, even when the child is given a lower dose.

Additionally, not all active ingredients are considered safe for kids, and many adult products contain multiple active ingredients. For example, a medication designed to treat symptoms of the flu may contain both a decongestant and a pain reliever.

Make sure to check the label of each medication before giving it to your child. If the medication does not specifically list a dose for your child’s age range or weight, do not give them the medication.

How To Give Your Child Medicine Safely

No matter whether you choose an over the counter medication that is specifically formulated for children or infants or not, it’s very important to be careful and pay close attention when giving your child any medication.

Prescription drugs should only be given as advised by your child’s doctor.

TheU.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends adhering to the following guidelines while providing over the counter medications to your child or infant:

Check the label on your child’s over the counter medication and follow the instructions exactly.

No matter how many times you have given your child the medication, always read the label first to ensure that you are giving the right quantity and that the medication is being given at the right intervals.

Check the active ingredient in the medication and make sure you understand what it is.

Active ingredients may be used to treat a number of different medical conditions, so even though you are administering two different medications to your child based on the brand name and intended ingredient, they may both have the same active ingredient. As a result, you could give your child double the dose of the active ingredient, which is very dangerous. For example, if you give your child a cold and flu medication that contains acetaminophen as an active ingredient to lower your child’s fever and you also give your child Tylenol to reduce their headache, they will have received double the dose of acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage.

Give your child the right medication in the right dose.

Just as medications come in adult and children’s formulas, there may be infant or junior formulas as well. These formulas vary based on the concentration of the active ingredient, the dosage, and the directions. Children’s medications are often dosed by weight or age, while adult medications usually just provide one set of directions. That’s why it is so important to use a child-specific formula.

Know your child’s current weight.

Becausechildren’s medication is often dosed based on the weight of your child, it’s important to know your child’s current weight. Do not guess their weight or try to figure out the proper dose based on adult instructions, as giving too little of the medication means that it may not work effectively, while too much can be dangerous.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to learn about potential drug interactions.

In addition to the dangers of mixing medications, you may also discover that certain vitamins, herbs, supplements, foods, beverages, and prescription medications do not interact well with each other.

Use the dosing tool that comes with your child’s medication.

Most children’s medications come with a dropper, syringe, spoon, or cup that clearly indicates the amount of medication. Never use a dosing tool from a different medication or a random tool from your kitchen.

Understand the difference between measurements.

It’s important to know the difference between a tablespoon (tbsp) and a teaspoon (tsp), as a tablespoon is about three times as much medication as a teaspoon. You should also know that a teaspoon is equivalent to a dose of 5 cc or 5 mL.

Keep your medications stored safely with a child-proof cap on.

It’s easy for children to get confused by today’s medications, as they are often colorful and taste like candy. Keep all medications stored out of reach of both children and pets and make sure that you replace the resealable cap.

Take special care with products containing iron.

Iron supplements are the leading cause of poisoning deaths in young children, so make sure you keep any vitamins or supplements containing iron locked up and out of the reach or little hands.

Check, check, and check again.

You can’t be too careful when giving medication to a child. Always check the outside packaging to ensure that there are no rips, cuts, or tears that could compromise the medication. Once you have opened the medication, check the label on the inside packaging to ensure that it is the right medicine. Finally, check the medication itself to ensure it is the right color, size, shape, and smell. If you notice anything that seems off, talk to a doctor or pharmacist to ensure that the medication is safe to give your child.

Do not give over the counter medications to young children for the treatment of diarrhea.

Diarrhea is common in children, but it should not be treated with over the counter medications due to the possibility of active ingredients like bismuth subsalicylate, magnesium, or aluminum, accumulating in your child’s body. Older children may be able to safely take some of these medications, but it’s best to check with your doctor first before giving them to your child.

Do not give your child acetaminophen or other pain killers prior to receiving vaccines.

While it might be tempting to try and minimize potential pain or fever caused by your child’s vaccine, children should never be given acetaminophen prior to receiving a vaccine, as it can make the vaccine less effective. Children should only be given acetaminophen after a vaccine at their doctor’s direction, including the development of a high fever (100.4 degrees in infants 3 months or younger, 102 degrees in children older than 3 months). Contact the doctor if the child's fever does not go down after receiving acetaminophen.

Do not give cough and cold medicines to children under the age of four.

Beginning in 2008, over the counter cough and cold medications designed for children under the age of four were voluntarily removed from the market by drug companies due to safety concerns. Safety concerns associated with the use of cough and cold medications in young children include seizures, rapid heart rates, loss of consciousness, and death.

Products that should be avoided include decongestants containing active ingredients such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylephrine and antihistamines containing active ingredients such as diphenhydramine, brompheniramine, or chlorpheniramine.

Children ages four and older may be given these medications, but only at the recommended dose. If the medication makes the child sleepy, stop administering the medication to your child. If you have any questions about which cough or cold medications are safe for kids, talk to your child’s physician or pharmacist for their recommendations.

Summary

Children’s bodies process medication differently from adults, so it is not considered safe to give your child adult medication at a lower dose. Children who take adult medication may experience serious side effects that differ in type and severity compared to side effects experienced by adults.

Over the counter medications are generally well tolerated, but they are still serious medications that should be used only as directed in children of all ages.

If you have any questions about the types of medications or doses of medications that are safe for your child, make sure that you contact your child’s doctor or pharmacist with any questions.



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