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Medicine bought in stores off the shelf is called over-the-counter or OTC medicine. Common reasons to use OTC medicines include the following:

Fever, pain 
Acetaminophen (one brand name is Tylenol) and Ibuprofen(2 brand names are Advil and Motrin) can help your child feel better if your child has head or body aches or a fever. They can also help with pain from injuries like a bruise or sprain, and soreness from a needle shot.

Both acetaminophen and ibuprofen come in drops for infants, liquid (syrup or elixir) for toddlers, and chewable tablets for older children. Acetaminophen comes in rectal suppositories if your child is vomiting and can’t keep down medicine taken by mouth.

Keep in mind that infant drops are stronger than syrup for toddlers. For example, there is more medicine in 1 tsp or 5 mL of infant drops than in 1 tsp or 5 mL of syrup for toddlers. Never give the same amount of infant drops as you would syrup.

Always look carefully at the label on the drug and follow the directions. Each type of drug has different directions based on the age and weight of a child. You may need to ask your doctor about the right dose for your child. For example, you will need to ask your doctor how much acetaminophen is the right dose for a child younger than 2 years.

Make sure you do not overdose your child by giving too much acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is an ingredient in many OTC and prescription medicines (pain relievers, fever reducers, cough/cold medicines). If your child is taking more than one medicine, read the ingredient list to prevent double dosing.

Note: Aspirin is another medicine taken by adults for aches and fever. However, never give aspirin to your child unless your child’s doctor tells you to. Children who take aspirin may get a serious illness called Reye syndrome.

Cold and cough 
The AAP recommends that OTC cough and cold medicines not be given to infants and small children because they have not been proven effective and can be harmful. Discuss other ways to treat cold symptoms with your doctor, such as saline nasal sprays or drops, and bulb suctioning of the nose for babies.

Allergy, itching
Antihistamines, like diphengydramine (one brand name is Benadryl), loratadine (one brand name is Claritin), and cetirizine (one brand name is Zyrtec) can be used to treat your child’s runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing due to allergies. They can also help itching from chickenpox, insect bites, and other rashes including hives.

Rash, itching, wound
Hydrocortisone cream or ointment (one brand name is Cortaid) is used for itching from bug bites, skin rashes like poison ivy, and eczema. Antibiotic ointment (2 brand names are Neosporin and Bacitracin) is used to prevent or control infection in wounds, cuts, and scrapes.

Stuffy nose
Your doctor may advise you to use saline nose drops or spray for a stuffy nose.

Many OTC treatments are available for constipation, including stool softeners, laxatives, enemas, and suppositories. Call your doctor for advice if your child is having hard stools or pain or blood with bowel movements, since some constipation medicines can be too harsh for infants and children.

A Guide to Your Child’s Medicines (Copyright © 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 11/09)