04:36pm Saturday 11 July 2020

Over-the-counter medicine: Just because it’s not prescription doesn’t mean it can’t cause harm

A few weeks ago, her parents were packing for vacation when Chloe managed to get her hands on a bottle of children’s liquid acetaminophen – she opened the child-resistant cap and drank it directly from the bottle. When her parents discovered what had happened, they immediately called the Ontario Poison Centre and the following day brought Chloe to SickKids. It was estimated that she had ingested 127 mg/kg of the syrup; roughly 30 mg shy of a toxic dose for a child her size. Thankfully Chloe was not poisoned, but it is near misses like these that the Ontario Poison Centre wants to highlight.

Although over-the-counter medication doesn’t require a prescription, it doesn’t mean it can’t cause harm. With products and medications on the market that look like colourful candy or sugary drinks, children may ingest these products without a parent or caregiver being aware.

During National Poison Prevention Week which runs March 15 to 21, it is important for parents and the public to know how to prevent unintentional poisoning. Young children’s innate curiosity and desire to explore their environment by touching and putting things in their mouths can be very dangerous.

Things to know before you give over-the-counter medicines to your child:

  • Be sure to keep all medications locked up tight, and out of sight
    Your child can very easily get into your medicine containers at home. Keep all of your family’s medicine (including over-the-counter medicine, herbals, natural and homeopathic products) locked up tight and out of sight. You could use a tackle box with a lock, a safety latch on the cupboard or a locked drawer.
  • Over-the-counter medicines can be sold in different strengths
    Did you know that infant acetaminophen products are stronger than acetaminophen products made for older children? This is true for many over-the-counter medicines. Make sure you speak to your pharmacist about the right dose (number of mL) for your child’s weight.
  • Some over-the-counter medicines may contain more than one active ingredient.
    Cold and cough medications contain acetaminophen AND antihistamines and occasionally decongestants.  Therefore, if your child is receiving additional medications, check with the pharmacist before starting any new over-the-counter medication.
  • Giving the wrong dose of over-the-counter medicines can cause great harm
    If you have a prescription, make sure to ask your child’s doctor or pharmacist exactly how MUCH of the medicine and how OFTEN you should be giving it to your child. Otherwise, read the label carefully. If you are worried that you have given too much medicine to your child, contact the Ontario Poison Centre immediately 1-800-268-9017. 
  • Make sure you only give your child medicines recommended by the doctor or pharmacist.

For further information about your over-the-counter medicines, please contact your pharmacist.

About the Ontario Poison Centre

The Ontario Poison Centre has been serving the general public and healthcare professionals throughout Ontario since 1979. Although the Poison Centre is located at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), our patients includes both children and adults. The primary role of the Poison Centre is to provide telephone advice for caring for the poisoned patient.. In addition to its primary role, the Poison Centre also collects data on poisoning cases to inform policy, generates and distributes poison prevention material, and participates in medical toxicology research and eduation of professional and public groups. For more information, please visit www.ontariopoisoncentre.com. When immediate care is needed for an exposed patient, call 1-800-268-9017.

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