Medicine safety and children

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Alternate Names

Medication safety; Poison control


Every year, many children are brought to the emergency room because they took medicine by accident. A lot of medicine is made to look and taste like candy. Children are curious and attracted to medicine. 

Most children get into medicine when their parent or caregiver is not looking. You can prevent accidents by keeping medicine locked up, out of reach, and out of sight. Be especially careful if you have toddlers around.

Keep Medicines out of Reach and Sight

  • Don’t think that a child resistant cap is enough. Children can figure out how to open bottles. 
  • Put a childproof lock or catch on the cabinet with your medicines. 
  • Put away medicine safely after every use.
  • Never leave medicine on the counter. Curious children will climb on a chair to reach for something that interests them. 
  • Don’t leave your medicine unattended. Children can find medicine in your bedside drawer, your handbag, or your jacket pocket. 
  • Remind visitors (such as grandparents, babysitters, and friends) to put away their medicine. Ask them to keep purses or bags containing medicine on a high shelf, out of reach. 
  • Get rid of any old or expired medicines.
  • Do not take your medicine in front of young children. Children like to copy you and may try to take your medicine just like you. 
  • Do not call medicine or vitamins candy. Children like candy and will get into medicine if they think it is candy.

What to Do If Your Child Takes Medicine

If you think your child has taken medicine, call the poison control center. It is open 24 hours a day. Post the number of your local poison control center by your phone. 

Go to the nearest emergency room. Your child may need: 

  • To get activated charcoal. Charcoal stops the body from absorbing the medicine. It has to be given within an hour, and it does not work for every medicine. 
  • To be admitted to the hospital so they can be watched closely 
  • Blood tests to see what the medicine is doing 
  • To have their heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure monitored

Preventing Medicine Mistakes

When giving medicine to your young child, follow these safety tips: 

  • Use medicine made only for children. Adult medicine may be harmful to your child. 
  • Read the directions. Check how much to give and how often you can give the medicine. If you are not sure what the dose is, call your child’s health care provider. 
  • Turn on the lights and measure medicine carefully. Measure the medicine with a medicine spoon, dropper, or cup. Do not use spoons from your kitchen. They do not measure the medicine accurately. 
  • Do not use expired medications. 
  • Do not use someone else’s prescription medicine. This could be very harmful for your child.

When to Call the Doctor

Call the doctor if:

  • You believe your child has taken medicine accidentally
  • You are not sure what dose of medicine to give your child


Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 8/30/2012
  • Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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