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 pharmacists can offer valuable information about the prescriptions they fill and answer questions that affect the patients they serve.

To encourage questions from their customers, many pharmacies have counseling rooms where pharmacists can talk to patients and families privately.

Reasons to Talk to the Pharmacist

Pharmacists cannot diagnose medical conditions. But they can answer many questions about medicines, recommend nonprescription drugs, and discuss side effects of specific medicines. 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. It has become the standard 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 medicine use. After getting their degrees, many pharmacists get additional residency training so they can work in a hospital setting.

Pharmacists are required to stay updated on the changing world of medicine and to take continuing education classes on drug therapy.

Starting the Conversation

Many pharmacies have private counseling areas where you talk without interruption. Some pharmacists also accept questions over the phone. And if you ask, almost all pharmacies will give you detailed literature about a particular medicine.

It's never too late to ask your pharmacist a question. Even if you don't think of one until you get home, you can still call the pharmacist for advice. That's part of their job.

Questions to Ask

Many parents ask about allergic reactions. Tell your pharmacist exactly what allergies your child has and what medicines your child takes. This will help the pharmacist prevent harmful drug reactions.

When you get the medicine, 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 medicine is a refill, check to make sure the drug is the same size, color, and shape that you are used to getting. If anything doesn't look right, ask.

Consider these other questions for your pharmacist:

  • Does this medicine need special storage (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 some foods (like dairy products) when taking this medicine?
  • Are there any side effects that I should look for? What should I do if I see any?
  • Should my child take special precautions, such as avoiding sun exposure, when taking this medicine?
  • 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 medicines, including over-the-counter medicines and alternative treatment such as herbal remedies?

Common Problems With Childhood Medicines

Some parents may forget to have their children finish a prescription. If the medicine (for example, a pain medicine) 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 medicine must be finished for it to be effective.

Throw away any old prescriptions. If your child doesn't finish a medicine, 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 don't share medicines among your kids. 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 this advice:

  • Do not keep medicine in the medicine cabinet! The medicine cabinet in a steamy, moist bathroom is not the best place to keep any medicine — prescription or otherwise. The room's moisture can make medicines 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 medicines out of the reach of children.
  • Never repackage medicines. Keep them in their original childproof containers so that you'll have the expiration date and instructions on hand.
  • Toss medicines 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.
  • Most liquid medicines are now flavored, but some might taste bad to a young child. Some can be mixed with chocolate or maple syrup to encourage kids to take the entire dose. Check with your pharmacist to see what would work best with which drug.
  • When giving liquid medicine, use a medicine syringe (not a household spoon) to make sure your child gets the exact amount prescribed. You can buy a medicine syringe at any drugstore.
  • What if your child takes the wrong dosage? Call the pharmacist or doctor right away, and follow his or her instructions.
  • If medicines need to be refrigerated, keep them cool while traveling. Freezer packs in coolers work fine. If you can, take the entire medicine bottle. That way, you won't forget the prescription dosage and if something happens to the medicine, you can get a refill.

How to Choose a Pharmacist

Using the same pharmacy for all of your family's prescriptions means that the pharmacist has a complete history of your family's prescribed medicines.

If you move, consider staying with the same chain of pharmacy stores. That way, your patient profiles and records are in a common computer database. Or ask your pharmacist for 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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