reading labels 1Reading and familiarizing yourself with the drug facts label is perhaps more important than it seems before you administer an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine to your children. I think we may get more hands-off at times than is ideal. And I think caregivers who casually help us with our children (grandparents, babysitters, nannies, neighbors) can too. Although it’s inconvenient to fill out forms for medicine administration in daycare, preschool and school, these locations seem to be the environments with the most safety around OTC medicine delivery. Those forms help remind us how important this stuff can be.

With little ones and children all heading back to school, as parents we know it’s time to buckle down and get ready for the shift in schedules and in illness that comes with onslaught of viruses that come with preschoolers and elementary-aged kids back in the classroom. Before the inevitable fall, wintery illnesses resume, it’s a great time to set aside some time to really learn how to read the drug label and learn the ingredients, why or if it’s safe for a child the ages of your kids, why the inactive ingredients matter, etc. In some ways it’s combination medicines that make me worry the most. 

In prepping this post, I chatted with Seattle Children’s Emergency Department Dr. Suzan Mazor to create some important reminders for dosing medication. She’s not only a smartypants ER doctor she is also a toxicologist and mom to two, so she comes to the issue with wild expertise. Her concern stemmed out of combo medicines as well.

Reading Over The Counter Labels & Dosing Liquid And Children’s Medicine:

1. Read the label.  Plain and simple get in the habit of always reading it as we don’t want to forget to make sure we really know what ingredients we’re giving and why. No question that sometimes we use medicines to “cure” children of illnesses or deficits (prescription antibiotics, anti-infectives, thyroid medicine) but most OTC medicines only treat symptoms our children experience. That makes them less necessary, although sometimes wildly helpful and soothing. Consequently, we want to use OTC when they earnestly help and match the correct medicine with the symptom we’re targeting…the label can help.

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2. Know the ingredients. So many products out there have combination medications. Many medicines for cough and cold will combine medicines for fever with medicines for mucus with medicines for cough. Some medicines combine medicines for allergy symptoms with medicine for fever. You might inadvertently be giving your child a second dose of acetaminophen (AKA “Tylenol”) when using a combination medicine without knowing it. Dr. Mazor reminds, “that sneaky acetaminophen shows up in all sorts of combination medicines” so watch out! If you’re dosing acetaminophen for fever make sure you’re not double dosing if you’re also treating other symptoms with medicine.

3. The syringe or dosing cup -KEEP IT! Keep the dosing devices that comes with the OTC medicine you buy (use a rubber band as needed to attach it to the bottle)! No question that it is confusing to dose medicines based on weight. In the past, data finds that 98% of liquid OTC medications for children have inconsistencies, excess information, or confusing dosing instructions — thankfully this is changing and there is national push to have pediatricians write and explain doses only in milliliters or milligrams as opposed to dosing and explaining in “teaspoons” and “ounces.” As we work to standardize this there will still be some confusion.

TIP: Never use a “teaspoon” from the drawer to measure medicines and don’t let Grandma. Different teaspoons hold different amounts. Dosing devices typically measure in either milliliters or ounces, so always use the tool that came with the medicine you’re going to give a baby of young child. If you’re ever confused reach out. Using the dosing device that comes with the medicine will help ensure you won’t have to make conversions (mL –> ounces or milliliters to teaspoons) and you can follow instructions on the label more precisely. Dosing by weight (like we do for children) is very different than dosing by age (like we do for adults).

Know Your OTCs have created a few easy-to-read image to help better explain OTC labels. I’ve included a few below, but you can view them all here.

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Prescription labels can be even more difficult to read and understand than OTCs. I’m sharing this video created with expert pharmacists in one of our Digital Health pilots at Seattle Children’s. Seattle Children’s pharmacist explains each section of a prescription medication label. This is here as a reminder as well to know that you can always can call a pharmacist with questions about BOTH prescription and/or OTC labels. Your child’s doctor or nurse, too! Don’t ever feel a question is too basic…make the call if any confusion!

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This post was written in partnership with In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @KnowYourOTCs # KnowYourOTCs for more info on health and wellness.