Medicines aren't always needed for childhood illnesses. Most illnesses get better by themselves or by using therapies that do not involve medicines.
Some medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are often used to relieve the discomfort caused by a high temperature or pain. Both paracetamol and ibuprofen are safe and effective. Always have one or both stored in a safe place at home.
Some children, for example those with asthma, may not be able to take ibuprofen, so check with your pharmacist or doctor.
Don't give aspirin to children under 16 years. It has been linked with a rare but dangerous illness, called Reye's syndrome.
Paracetamol can be given to children aged over 1 month for pain and symptoms of fever. Make sure you’ve got the right strength for your child's age and weight as overdosing can be dangerous. Babies aged under 1 month should only be given paracetamol under medical supervision.
Read and follow the directions on the label carefully. If you aren’t sure, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
The Australian College of Nursing advises against routinely giving medicines solely to reduce fever to children who have no signs of distress. Talk to your doctor or visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website for more information.
If you're breastfeeding, ask your midwife or doctor for advice before taking paracetamol.
Ibuprofen can be given for pain and symptoms of fever in children aged 3 months and over who weigh more than 5kg. Make sure you’ve got the right strength for your child's age and weight as overdosing can be dangerous. Read and follow the directions on the label carefully. If you aren’t sure, check with your doctor or pharmacist. Avoid ibuprofen if your child has asthma, unless advised by your doctor, and don’t give ibuprofen to any child who is dehydrated.
Children don’t often need antibiotics to manage common self-limiting infections such as a simple cold. Most childhood infections are caused by viruses, and antibiotics only treat illnesses caused by bacteria, not viruses.
If you’re offered a prescription, especially an antibiotic, talk to your doctor about why it’s needed, how it will help and whether there are any alternatives. Ask about any possible side effects (for example, whether it will make your child sleepy or irritable).
If your child is prescribed antibiotics, it is important that you follow your doctor’s advice on when, how and for how long they should take them. Your child may seem better after 2 or 3 days, but if your doctor has said they should take them for 5 days, they must carry on taking the medicine.
Make sure you know how much and how often to give a medicine. Writing it in your child’s health record may help you remember. Most states provide new parents with a child health record. If in doubt, check with your pharmacist or doctor. Never give the medicine more frequently than recommended by your doctor or pharmacist.
With liquids, always measure out the right dose for your child’s age and weight. The instructions will be on the bottle. If you are not sure check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Sometimes, liquid medicine may have to be given using a special spoon or liquid medicine measure. This allows you to give small doses of medicine more accurately.
Never use a teaspoon as they vary in size. Ask your pharmacist to explain how a measure should be used. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions supplied with the measure, and give the exact dose stated on the medicine bottle. If in doubt, ask the pharmacist for help.
If you buy medicines at the pharmacy:
- Tell the pharmacist how old your child is. Some medicines are for adult use only.
- Follow the instructions on the label or ask the pharmacist if you’re unsure.
- Ask for sugar-free medicines if they're available.
- Look for the date stamp. Don’t use out-of-date medicines. If you have any out-of-date medicines at home take them back to the pharmacy for safe disposal.
Only give your child medicine prescribed by your doctor or supplied by a pharmacist for your child. Never use medicines prescribed for anyone else.
Keep all medicines out of your child’s reach and out of sight if possible. The kitchen is a good place to keep medicines as it's easy for you to keep an eye on them there. Put them in a place where they won't get warm.
If you think your child is reacting badly to a medicine, for example with a rash or diarrhoea, stop giving it to them and speak to a health professional.
Ask your pharmacist for advice. Keep a note of the name of the medicine in your child's Health Record so you can avoid it in future.
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Last reviewed: October 2018