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Talking to the Pharmacist

If your child is sick, you'll probably have many questions to ask your doctor. But have you made a list of questions and concerns to share with your pharmacist?

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 privately.

Reasons to Talk to the Pharmacist

Pharmacists cannot diagnose medical conditions but can answer many questions about medicines, recommend nonprescription drugs, and discuss side effects of specific medications. And some also can provide blood sugar and blood pressure monitoring and offer advice on home monitoring tests.

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.)

Starting the Conversation

Many pharmacies have private counseling areas where you 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 medication.

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 job.

Questions to 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 be harmful.

Once you have received the 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 pharmacist:

  • 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 foods?
  • Will this medicine conflict with my child's other medications, including over-the-counter medicines and alternative treatment 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, don't save it for a future illness because most drugs lose their potency after a year. Do not use after the expiration date and talk with your doctor before giving old prescriptions to your child.

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:

  • Do not 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 kitchen.
  • Remember to keep prescription and nonprescription medications out of the reach of children.
  • Never repackage medications; keep them in their original childproof 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 might not be very palatable to a young child. Some medicines can be mixed with chocolate or maple syrup to encourage kids 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 instructions.
  • 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 never mix two different drugs in the same pillbox.

How to Choose a Pharmacist

It's important to establish a relationship with one pharmacy so that your pharmacist has a complete history 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 to share with your new pharmacist.

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