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What Children Should Know About Medicines

What is a medicine?

A medicine is a substance that is used to help a sick person to get well (e.g. malaria medicine) or prevent a healthy person from becoming sick (e.g. vaccines and supplements). It can be in the form of tablet, capsule, injection, syrup, suspension, powder, cream, insert, patch or inhaler.

Much as medicines are made to help a sick person get well, they can be injurious to the body especially when used in the wrong way. Sometimes, medicines do more than they are meant to do. It is, therefore, important that we learn about medicines.
Most of the time, we take medicines through our mouth or by injection. The medicine is transported round the whole body and usually worked on by the liver and removed from the body by the kidney.

We have to be sure we need the medicine. As children, we need our parents or guardians to take the decision for us. In fact, even our parents or guardians may have to consult the doctor or the pharmacist.
We should understand how and when to take the medicine so that it can work well. For example, some medicines will only work if taken at regular times of the day such as every 6hours or every 12hours etc, some medicines will only work if taken before food ,some will not work at all if taken with or after food while some other medicines will only work if taken with or after food. The way to find out how best to use our medicine is to ask our pharmacist because the pharmacist is the ‘medicine expert’. That means that when we see our doctor and he prescribes medicine we should take our prescription to the pharmacist and ask questions, as many questions as we can ask about the medicine. We should find out how best to take the medicine, what time of day, how long to take the medicine for, what unwanted reactions we may have by taking the medicine, where best to keep the medicine e.g. in the fridge, freezer or on the shelve, what to do if we miss a dose of the medicine, etc.
1. All medicines, be they vitamins or not, have doses and we should not take more than recommended however sweet the medicine is e.g. some people think that vitamin C can be taken anyhow and so they lick it like sweet. This is bad, because excess of vitamin C in the body can cause problem for the body. We must be careful with all medicines.

2. There are different groups of medicines. Some medicines should only be taken if prescribed by our doctor while we can take some others without the doctor’s prescription but whichever, we should, as children, not take medicines without our parent’s or guardian’s consent. Children should not take medicines by themselves.

3. Medicines can get damaged if we don’t handle them properly e.g. some medicines can be damaged by heat while some can be damaged by cold; so we should find out from our pharmacist how best to store our medicines. All medicines should be stored properly.

4. Some medicines may prevent other medicines from doing their work well (i.e. medicines may interact with one another). Therefore, we should tell our doctor or pharmacist the names of other medicines we are taking or wish to take even if they are vitamins. This means that we should know the names of whatever medicine we take, if possible let us have a diary to keep record of all medicines we take so we go along with it when visiting our doctor.

5. Medicines can be harmful if taken after their expiry dates. We should check expiry dates of medicines before we take them.

6. Medicines are meant to make us regain our health i.e. get well. However, in the process, medicines may do what they were not meant to do; so while taking some medicine you may notice some unpleasant effects like swelling (on your lip, eye lid, face, etc), rashes, noise in your ear, pain in your throat or difficulty swallowing, sleeping too much (especially in the day), seeing imaginary things etc. Please tell your parents or guardians immediately you notice any of such things so they can tell your doctor or pharmacist. We should report unpleasant effects of medicine promptly.

7. We should not take medicine that was not given to us by our parents, guardians or those caring for us. We should not take medicine from our friends even if we think we have the same sickness as our friend. One day, a woman gave a bottle of worm expeller to each of her two sons. The first son quickly finished his but the second son did not like the taste of the liquid medicine so he gave his to the first son to help him drink it so mummy would not know that he didn’t finish his. They thought medicine was like food. Thank God the mother noticed that the first son’s bottle was almost full which was unlike him while the second son’s was empty, also unlike him. Mother suspected foul play. She asked what happened and discovered that first son was trying to help second son to take his medicine. The first son would have suffered from the overdose of the medicine. He probably would have had stomach pain, chest pain or become very ill.

At some other time, we shall discuss more about medicines. It is important that we remember that medicines can be very useful when used appropriately and very harmful when used wrongly.

Pharm. Folasade Olufunke Lawal (Mrs.)
Chairman, Drug Information Centre (DIC),
Association of Community of Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN),
52A Ikorodu Road, Fadeyi, Lagos.

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