Types of Common Childhood Medications

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs for children do not require a prescription. OTC medications include pain relievers (e.g., acetaminophen, ibuprofen), cough medicines, and cold remedies. These medicines often can be purchased in drugstores, supermarkets, and other stores.

Before buying and using any OTC medicine, make sure the packaging is not damaged and inspect the container seal. Do not use the product if the seal has been broken or appears to have been tampered with in any way (e.g., cut, torn, punctured). Most OTC medications contain important information (called the Drug Facts label) on the box and/or package insert. The Drug Facts label includes information about how to administer the medicine (e.g., how much, how often), about product ingredients (e.g., active ingredients, inactive ingredients), and drug warnings and precautions.

Parents and caregivers should read this information carefully. If they have any questions, they should speak with a qualified health care provider or pharmacist before using the medicine in children and adolescents.

Some of the most common uses for over-the-counter (OTC) medications in children are to relieve pain, reduce fever, soothe itching, treat gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., upset stomach, constipation), and lessen the severity of cold or allergy symptoms (e.g., cough, congestion).

OTC medications may reduce symptoms and make the child more comfortable, but they usually do not cure illness. Many childhood ailments can be treated without medicine by making sure the child gets enough rest and that he or she receives plenty of fluids.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription medications for children may be ordered by the child's pediatrician, physician's assistant (PA), or another medical specialist. These medications may be used to relieve severe symptoms or to treat medical conditions (e.g., asthma, ear infections, ADHD).

Parents and caregivers should make sure they understand as much as possible about medications that are prescribed for their children, including why the medicine is being prescribed, how and when to administer the medicine, how the medicine may interact with other drugs, and possible side effects of the medicine.

Most pharmacies provide detailed, printed information about prescription medications (called patient information inserts). Parents and caregivers should read this information carefully and should speak with a qualified health care provider or pharmacist if they have any questions.

It is important for parents to pay close attention to all medicines that are used in children. If a parent notices anything unusual about a medicine that the child has taken before, such as the color, shape, size, or smell or if a new prescription medicine differs from how it was described by the child's physician, do not administer the drug and contact your pediatrician or pharmacist.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 08 Sep 2015