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Pediatric Overdosing – What You Need to Know

This morning my heart broke into a million pieces. I opened an email and found a link to a Washington Post article describing how an eight month old baby died after being given an adult dose of diphenhydramine. His mother left him with a babysitter, who dosed him up with this common medication “to help him sleep.” Instead, the poor baby never woke up.

When it comes to medicating our children, there are so many things to factor in. Age, weight, and general health all play a part in determining exactly how much of which medications are suitable for a given ailment. Doctors should always be consulted before giving your children anything, and parents have to be vigilant about monitoring their kids for any adverse reactions.

I’ll tell you a story. Three years ago, we were living in Florida, and I was heavily pregnant with our second baby. Dexter, our firstborn, had been fighting an ongoing battle with colds and the flu, and our pediatrician had prescribed him a cough medicine suitable for a two year old. At the same time, I had been dealing with recurring bouts of bronchitis and was prescribed a whole host of medications, including a cough medicine with codeine in it.

One morning, I lay in bed as my husband got our son ready for daycare. He came in and asked where the cough medicine was, and I told him it was the pink bottle on our breakfast bar. He went and gave Dex the medicine and went on with the day. About twenty minutes later, I came out and noticed that MY medicine was sitting out on the counter. I realized that it was also a pink bottle. My heart dropped into my stomach, and I just knew that we were in trouble. I shouted for my husband and asked him which bottle he’d given to Dexter. His face went white, as he realized he’d given him MY medicine.

We rushed to daycare, grabbed Dex and started calling our doctor’s office. No one was in. We started heading for the hospital, and as we drove, we called poison control. They advised us to find out exactly how much codeine was in the dose. We tried to call my doctor to find out, and he sent us to the pharmacy. The pharmacy technician helped us to figure out exactly how much codeine my son had taken. We called the doctor again who verified our son’s weight and concluded that the dosage should not do any lasting harm. He said that he might sleep a lot and have an upset stomach, but our slip up would have no greater consequences.

I broke down in tears. I was so relieved that our son would be okay, and I couldn’t help think about how lucky we were that nothing worse happened.

Reading stories like the one in the Washington Post reminds me how easy it is to let your guard down when it comes to keeping kids safe.

Did you know that a 2014 study published in Pediatrics found that every 8 minutes, a child in the U.S. receives the wrong medication or dosing? With summer here and school years ending, your home routines are likely changing. Whether you have relatives visiting from out of town or new babysitters being introduced, it is so important to double down and focus on safely administering over-the-counter medicines to children.

Remember to NEVER give children medicines intended for adults. And if you ever entrust your child to a caregiver, be sure to communicate clearly with them about any instructions for dosage.

Remember to always read the Drug Facts label before administering an OTC medicine, and remind caregivers to do the same. Dose by your child’s weight. Oral cough and cold medicines are not safe for children under age 4. Be aware of active ingredients in any oral cough and cold medications you may be giving to an older child because these products sometimes contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and you do NOT want to double dose them.

And above all, NEVER give a child an allergy, cough or cold OTC medicine just to make them sleepy.

Check out the infographic below for more handy tips and a pediatric safe dosing chart. You can also download a copy here. Download this brochure from KnowYourOTCs to learn more about kids and cough and cold medicines.

Know Your OTCs - Handy reference for pediatric dosing + great tips for parents

I am so proud to be partnering with the CHPA Educational Foundation’s KnowYourOTCs blogging program, and I want to remind you that all opinions are my own. 

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