Preventing medication side effects in kids

More than a half million children every year nationally have bad reactions or side effects to widely used medications. Research shows sometimes those reactions require medical treatment or even hospitalization.

How common are medical or medication side effects in children?

Blessing Pharmacist Dr. Andrea Chbeir said, "They're really common and they can happen as frequently in children as they do in adults, which we know is a huge problem nationally."

Children younger than five are most commonly affected.

Dr. Chbeir says there are many reasons why medication side effects are more problematic in young children. The first reason is obvious, babies and young children can't communicate the side effects or problems they're experiencing. Second, it's all about how medication is given.

Dr. Chbeir said, "There is a need for exact dosing for children because it is weight based, there is room for error and a lot of times because it is a liquid medication, parents aren't exactly sure how to measure it out right. So it sets up a lot of room for error for parents."

Dr. Chbeir says one way to avoid problems is dose your child according to the accurate weight taken during your doctor's visit. Then use the right tools. Don't use teaspoons and tablespoons from your house. Get an appropriate medication dispensing spoon from your pharmacy or local drug store.

Some common side effects of medication include diarrhea, urine or feces discoloration, and drowsiness. But Dr. Chbeir says to be on look out for others...because every child handles medication differently.

"Is there a side effect that is more of a cause for red flags than another?"

Dr. Chbeir said, "Parents need to be able to differentiate between a medication side effect, something we know has happened with the medication in the past and a potential life threatening allergic reaction. So it's really important that parents are proactive and can differentiate between the two. A way to do that is to ask the question, "What can I expect from this medication?" Ask that in your physicians office. Let's say for example the medication can cause diarrhea. If you notice that in your child, you can probably manage that at home. However if your child starts developing shortness of breath after the first or second dose, that is a life threatening situation and you need to call 911 and understand that this could be an allergic reaction. Any type of shortness of breath with a medication is serious."

If a parent sees a reaction, what should he or she do?

Dr. Chbeir said, "Being a parent myself, this is my rule of thumb, if I am uncomfortable that's the time to call. So if you see drowsiness in your child and it isn't something that is impairing them and this is a known side effect of a medication,it could be pretty mild. But if it is something that is affecting your child, they're not eating, they're acting differently, if you are uncomfortable at all, make a phone call because that is a discussion you need to have with your physician about stopping the medication and trying something else."

But a way to avoid complication is to be proactive, by asking all the questions you can in the doctor's office or pharmacy.

Dr. Chbeir says there are seven questions you need to ask your doctor or pharmacist before giving your child any prescription medication.

What is the medication for?

What can I expect from this medication?

What are the most common side effects?

What do I do if I see these in my child?

When should I call your office with concerns?

How do I give the right dose?

How should I store the medication?

There are some other ways to be proactive at the doctor's office. Always take a list of your child's allergies and current medications to each appointment. Also pay attention to labels. There you will find very important dosage and storage information. Instructions like how to shake the medication and whether to keep it refrigerated will make a big difference in the drug's effectiveness for your child.

For more information log onto, a site specifically dedicated to helping parents prevent medication overdoses and side effects. It will also help you develop a medication list and answer common questions about medication specifically in children.