We doctors are always careful to tell parents to use the correct dosage when giving medicine to children. This helps ensure that the medicine will be effective and safe. A part of medicine safety that we don't often talk about, but is just as important, is how to properly store medicines in the home.
While there's no such thing as a completely childproof home and medicine cabinet, there are many steps you can take to help keep your children from finding medicines and accidentally ingesting them.
Choose an elevated place that's also cool and dry. Exposing medicines to excess heat and moisture may cause them to lose their effectiveness or even turn toxic before the indicated expiration date. Make sure to put every medicine and vitamin away every time you use them.
Toddlers may be able to slide a chair or step stool over to reach a medicine cabinet that's high up, so keeping it locked is a good extra precaution. Don't leave a cabinet unlocked in between retrieving a medicine and putting it back if you're going to leave the cabinet unattended.
Remember, however, that child-resistant does not mean childproof. Keeping medicines in their original containers helps ensure that you're taking (or giving) the right medication, and the packaging contains important information like correct dosage, expiration dates and guidelines for proper disposal. Should your child accidently ingest medicine, having the original containers on hand will help emergency personnel assess risk since the capacity of the bottle can help them estimate how much of the medicine your child may have taken.
Do this even if you use the medicine frequently. Avoiding the complications from accidentally ingested medicines is well worth the small inconvenience of having to repeatedly unlock and re-lock bottles.
Do not keep medicines in purses or coat pockets, and advise houseguests, especially grandparents, to do the same.
Take extra care with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for children such as liquid pain and fever relievers. Never let children use empty medicine containers as toys for their doctor kits.
Check the packaging — the expiration date should be printed clearly on it. I usually tell parents to read the package insert to see if the medicine is safe to flush; if it needs to be dropped off at a "take-back" program (many pharmacies offer these); or mixed with pet litter, cooking oil or dirt to make it undesirable in case it is found in the trash. For more information, visit the SMARxT Disposal website.
Save it in your mobile phone and post it somewhere visible in the house, preferably near the telephone or with your emergency contact list. Don't forget to make sure babysitters and other caretakers know this number!
Keep these tips in mind but remember that when it comes to keeping your kids safe from accidents, whether medicine-related or not, nothing beats a watchful eye.
Dr. TJ Gold is a pediatrician in private practice at Tribeca Pediatrics in New York City, NY.
Published December 20, 2011.