If your child has a minor ailment, a cough or cold, stomach upset or a temperature; it’s handy to remember that you can always go to straight to your chemist for advice and medicine rather than head for your doctor.
The good news about this is you don't have to make an appointment and chemists are often open longer hours than doctors and clinics, giving you ample opportunity to get skilled advice.
If you are using medicine that isn't on a prescription you need to take care – especially as children are more sensitive to medication than adults. Here's how to ask all the right questions and stay safe.
Check your child's symptoms with your chemist first – and if they need over-the-counter medicine (e.g. infant paracetamol for a fever), the chemist should take the time to explain the medicine to you.
This should include giving you details of how and when and for how long your child's medicine should be taken.
If they don't explain fully or you don't understand the first time – always ask them to go through it with you again.
They should also let you know if there is anything to be avoided while your child is taking the medicine, and they should check with you first to see if your child is already taking any other medication that could affect this.
In turn, you should always let them know if your child has any allergies or has had any bad reactions to any previous medicines in the past, as well as asking them about any possible side effects.
Some medicines have to be taken at particular times, for example, before or after meals, in order for them to work properly – so always read the instructions carefully.
Remember if you don't understand part or all of the instructions you can always call your chemist for more information.
Only give your child medicine from his own prescription, or over-the-counter medicine approved by the chemist and never give your child medicine designed for adults.
Secondly, make sure you only ever give the correct dose of the medicine and that you never exceed the dose recommended over a 24-hour period.
Always double check the amount needed for your child's age and weight and if you are using a spoon, use the precise measuring spoon that comes with the medicine – rather than one from the kitchen drawer. Too small a dose and the medicine won't work while too large a dose could harm your child.
If you're giving a liquid, don't forget to shake the bottle thoroughly to make sure the strength of the medicine is the same throughout the bottle.
If using a spoon is too tricky (your child keeps spitting the medicine out) a medicine syringe can be easier – you can get one of these from your pharmacy.
Equally, giving medicine like eye and ear drops can also be tricky – in all cases, try and stay as calm as you can and if needed, get someone else to help you keep your child steady.
If your child can't take the medicine she's been given easily (e.g. she gags at the medicine or spits it out), contact your doctor or chemist as they may be able to give you the medicine in a different form.
Some treatments are advised for a maximum of a few days while others, such as antibiotics, need to be taken for the full course, even if your child appears better before the course is finished. This is because the infection may not have been completely treated and may recur and the antibiotic may be less effective the next time it is given.
Always speak to your doctor or chemist if your child shows any side effects, or if you have been using the medicine for a while and your child's condition has not improved or worsened.
At home you should always make sure that all medicines are stored well away from babies and children.
This is best in a high up in a lockable wall cabinet where little fingers can't reach – and ideally in a cool, dark place. Some medicines need to be kept refrigerated and, if that's the case, keep them out of sight of children and up on a high shelf in the fridge so they are not easily reachable.
Always store medicines in the bottle or packet they came in and keep the instructions – you might have forgotten how to take them by the time you come to use them again.
Finally, never keep a medicine past its ‘use by date’ and some medicines once opened must be discarded within a limited time.
Eye ointment, for example, should not be kept over four weeks after the tube has been opened. Don't put them in a bin or flush them down the toilet – give them back to the chemist where they can be disposed of safely.