Medicine cabinet must-haves for parents

What to stock for your children by ages and stages  Dr. David Eisen, Chief of Family and Community Medicine, North York General Hospital

Parents want to be prepared for any eventuality to help keep their children safe and healthy. The Department of Family and Community Medicine at North York General Hospital (NYGH) has some helpful tips on what to keep in a medicine cabinet based on a child's age.

“Adults learn to read their bodies. They often know when something ‘isn't right' and when to seek help or reach for over-the-counter medication,” says Dr. David Eisen, Chief of Family and Community Medicine at NYGH. “But it's harder for children, particularly babies and infants, to communicate what is wrong.”

Photo: Dr. David Eisen, Chief of Family and Community Medicine, NYGH
O–3 months

At this point children are still building their immune system. New parents are learning the ropes and trying to understand what baby's cries mean.
  • A rectal thermometer —This type of thermometer is inserted into the infant's rectum and is proven to give the most accurate core temperature in an infant. The extremities and skin of babies may not provide an accurate reading if they have a fever. A fever is defined as a rectal temperature greater than 38C (100.4F).

    “One of the main issues to watch for in infants is a fever,” says Dr. Eisen. “A fever in a small infant can quickly become quite serious and it's important for parents to be able to quickly identify a fever and take an accurate reading of baby's core temperature.”
  • Petroleum jelly for dry skin, eczema and diaper rash
  • Soft washcloths for cleaning baby's eyes and ears. Use a clean washcloth and warm water.

Parents should keep their medicine cabinet stocked based on their children's ages and stages.

Parents should ensure they have key items stocked in the medicine cabinet based on their children's ages and stages.

3 months–3 years NYGH Family Physician Dr. Kim Lazare

“Young children are all about exploring their surrounding and testing their abilities and limits,” says Family Physician Dr. Kim Lazare. “At this age, scrapes, bumps and cuts are normal. Being prepared with the essentials is a great start.”
Photo: NYGHFamily Physician Dr. Kim Lazare

  • A digital axillary thermometer — This type of thermometer goes under your child's armpit and is ideal for children who are still a little too young to keep a thermometer under their tongue.
  • Rubbing alcohol / Polysporin — In the case of a scrape or cut, you'll want to make sure it's clean before covering it up to avoid possible infection.
  • Bandages of different sizes and shapes
  • Oral rehydration like Gastrolyte, Pedialyte, Pediapops to keep your child hydrated after vomiting or diarrhea
  • Acetaminophen / Ibuprophen — “It's very important with child pain relief to choose a delivery system appropriate for each age: drops, syrup or chewable and dose by weight,” says Dr. Eisen. “Always speak with your pharmacist about the appropriate dosage for your child.”
  • Sunscreen / after sun— After six months of age, children should wear sunscreen if they are going to be in the sun and it should be reapplied regularly. “Under six months, the best approach is to keep infants out of the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the ultraviolet rays are strongest,” says Dr. Lazare. “For babies and kids of all ages, dress them in lightweight, full-length clothing and brimmed hats."
4–12 years

Once your child becomes a little more independent, you may want to add a few more items to the list above.
  • A digital oral thermometer — By now your child should be mature enough to hold a digital thermometer in their mouth.
  • Hot/ cold packs
  • Burn cream
  • Tensor bandages — A tensor bandage is great to have on hand for sprains and strains as well as for wrapping limbs if your child is experiencing growing pains.

Proceed with caution

“There are two very important things we tell all our parents,” says Dr. Eisen, “Firstly, keep your medicine cabinet up to date and out of reach. Children are often lured by the fun colours and fruity flavours of kids' medicines. All medication, including vitamins, should be kept in a safe and secure location."

“Also, parents of young children should not give their children cough and cold medication without first consulting their family physician or paediatrician. These medications have been shown to be ineffective for children under the age of six and may cause negative side effects.”

If you have any doubts about your child's health, please seek professional medical attention.

June 7, 2016

This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of The Pulse, North York General Hospital's community newsletter. Subscribe to receive 10 issues per year.

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