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Experts say the average family needs to be prepared for only three kinds of problems: minor cuts and scrapes, chronic illness and occasional symptoms.

  • Cuts and scrapes: Have antibacterial soap and hydrogen peroxide to cleanse wounds, an antibiotic ointment and adhesive bandages and sterile gauze.
  • Chronic illness: Have acetaminophen and ibuprofen available to provide relief for headaches and mild pain. Because ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory, it’s especially good for sore or strained muscles. Caution: Never give aspirin to children under age 12, as it could lead to Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.
  • Occasional symptoms: Give nonprescription pain reliever such as acetaminophen to reduce fever. Cough medicines are trickier—they’re often combined with other ingredients such as antihistamines, which the sick person may not need. Buy one of each: guaifenesin to thin secretions, dextromethorphan (or DM) to quiet coughs and diphenhydramine to relieve nonproductive coughs from allergies and colds. But never give these medications to a child younger than age 2 without consulting a physician first.

Store medicines safely out of your child’s reach and check expiration dates regularly. Be sure to ask your child’s pediatrician about proper dosages and possible drug interactions.