If your child is sick, you'll probably think of countless
questions to ask your child's doctor. But how many times have
you made a list of questions and concerns to share with your
If you're like most parents, the answer is probably
"very few" or "none." But today's
pharmacists are trained to provide valuable information about the
prescriptions they fill and to answer questions that affect the
patients they serve. To encourage questions from their customers,
many pharmacies provide counseling rooms where pharmacists can talk
to patients and families in a private setting.
Why Should I Talk to My Pharmacist?
Pharmacists cannot diagnose medical conditions, but your
pharmacist can answer many questions about medicines, recommend
nonprescription drugs, and discuss side effects of specific
medications. And some pharmacists can also provide blood sugar and
blood pressure monitoring and offer advice on home monitoring
Most pharmacists who graduated in the 1980s received 5-year
bachelor's degrees. Recently, it has become popular for
pharmacists to receive a doctor of pharmacy degree. This 6- to
8-year-program requires pharmacists in training to go on hospital
rounds with doctors and be there when decisions are made to begin
drug use. These skills are particularly useful for pharmacists who
operate within hospital settings.
Pharmacists are required to stay up-to-date on the changing
world of medicine and to take continuing education classes on drug
therapy. (Requirements can vary from state to state.)
How Do I Start a Conversation With My Pharmacist?
Many pharmacies have private counseling areas where you can sit
and talk without interruption. Some pharmacists also accept
questions over the telephone. And if you ask, almost all pharmacies
will provide you with detailed literature about a particular
It's never too late to ask your pharmacist a question. Even
if you don't think of one until after you get home, you can
still call the pharmacist for advice. That's part of his or her
What Questions Should I Ask?
A typical question parents have is about allergic reactions.
First and foremost, make sure that your pharmacist knows exactly
what allergies your child has and what medications your child is
already taking. This will help the pharmacist protect against
possible drug interactions that could potentially be harmful.
Once you have received your child's medication, always look
at it carefully before you leave the pharmacy. Read the
instructions to be sure you understand how to give it to your
child. Even if the medication is a refill, check to make sure the
drug is the same size, color, and shape that you are used to
receiving. If anything doesn't look right, ask.
Consider the following additional questions for your
- Does this medication require special storage conditions (for
example, at room temperature or in a refrigerator)?
- How many times a day should it be given? Should it be given
with food? Without food?
- Should my child avoid certain foods (such as dairy products)
when taking this medication?
- Are there special side effects that I should look for? What
should I do if I notice any of these side effects?
- Should my child take special precautions, such as avoiding
exposure to sunlight, when taking this medication?
- What should I do if my child skips a dose?
- Is it OK to cut pills in half or crush them to mix into
- Will this medicine conflict with my child's other
medications, including over-the-counter medicines and
such as herbal remedies?
Common Problems With Childhood Medications
Some parents may forget to have their children finish a
prescription. If the medication (for example, a pain medication) is
to be taken "as needed for symptoms," you don't need
to finish the entire prescription within a set number of days. But
with prescriptions like antibiotics, the medication must be
finished for it to be effective.
Throw away any old prescriptions
. If your child doesn't finish a medication, it's not a
good idea to save it for a future illness because most drugs lose
their potency after 1 year. Do not use after the expiration date
and talk with your doctor before giving old prescriptions to your
Another common problem is the sharing of medications between
siblings. Pharmacists and doctors recommend that no one take a drug
prescribed for anyone else or offer prescription drugs to another
person, no matter how similar the symptoms or complaints.
Tips From the Pharmacist
Pharmacists offer the following advice:
keep medicine in the medicine cabinet! Ironically, the medicine
cabinet in a steamy, moist bathroom is not the best place to keep
any medication - prescription or otherwise. The room's
moisture can make medications less potent. It's best to keep
medicines in a hall closet or on a high shelf in the
- Remember to keep prescription and nonprescription medications
out of the reach of children.
- Never repackage medications; keep them in their original
child-proof containers so that you'll have the expiration
date and instructions on hand.
- Toss medications when they have expired (usually 1 year for
pills or sooner for liquids - check the prescription label for
the expiration date) or the doctor has told you that your child
should stop taking them.
- Though most liquid medications are now flavored, some may not
be very palatable to a young child. Some medicines can be mixed
with chocolate or maple syrup to encourage children to take the
entire dosage. Check with your pharmacist to see what would work
best with which drug. However, pharmacists discourage putting
liquid medication into a bottle for babies; if they don't
finish the bottle, they won't get all the medication.
- When giving liquid medicine, it's best to use a
medication syringe (instead of a household spoon) to ensure that
your child will get the exact amount prescribed. You can buy a
medication syringe at your pharmacy.
- What if your child takes the wrong dosage? Call the
pharmacist or doctor right away, and follow his or her
- If medications need to be refrigerated, make sure you keep
them cool while traveling. Freezer packs in coolers work fine. If
you can, take the entire medicine bottle; that way, you won't
have any reason to forget the prescription dosage and if
something happens to the medication, you can get a refill. And
mix two different drugs in the same pillbox.
How Should I Choose a Pharmacist?
It's important to establish a relationship with one pharmacy
so that your pharmacist has a complete
of your family's prescribed medications. A pharmacist is an
important resource when it comes to making sure your child is
getting the right medicine.
If you move, you might want to consider staying within the same
chain of pharmacy stores to ensure that your patient profiles and
records are available in a common computer database. Or you could
request that your most recent pharmacist give you a copy of your
family's patient profiles and pharmaceutical history to take
with you and share with your new pharmacist.
Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: July 2006
Originally reviewed by:
Mary L. Gavin, MD
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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