For the most part, children are happy and healthy, and there's rarely a reason to give them medication. Still, there are of course instances when medication for your child could be necessary. In these cases, it's important to know what key questions to ask your pediatrician so that you are fully informed about the risks and benefits.
I'm a practicing physician as well as the mother of two children. Here's what I recommend asking if your child is prescribed a medication:
1. Are there any natural alternatives?
You'll want to start by understanding whether the medication is truly imperative or if it's optional. By all means, you should feel comfortable asking your pediatrician about nonmedication therapies and holistic alternatives. He or she should help you understand when medication is essential and when it's not — for example, if it's for a simple viral head cold.
2. What are the active ingredients of this medication?
Many medications are actually several different substances combined. So it's important to ask your doctor to clarify the active ingredients and explain how they work.
3. What are the side effects?
Medications are tested for years in order to gain FDA approval — but all drugs can still cause side effects.
Ask your pediatrician to explain the most common side effects so that you're fully informed of the risks. This will also help you understand how to deal with the side effects — if you decide to go ahead with medication — as well as feel reassured that certain side effects may be bothersome but aren't serious.
Finally, ask your child's doctor about more serious adverse reactions. Always ask whether there are any long-term side effects in children, such as diabetes or changes in weight.
4. How would the medication affect my child's life?
If you and your pediatrician together decide that this medication is imperative, make sure you understand how it should be used safely. For example, ask these questions:
- Can my child still play sports? Some physical activities may be off limits while your child is on the medication.
- Is there anything my child shouldn't eat or drink while taking this medication? Some drugs may be metabolized more quickly or slowly if certain foods or drinks are consumed.
- Are there any tests that need to be done to monitor this medication? Some drugs may require blood tests to check levels of the drug as well as the function of the heart, kidneys, or liver while taking the medication.
By asking the right questions and fully understanding the medication your pediatrician is recommending, you'll be better able to keep your child healthy.