Are You Giving Your Kids Their Medicine Correctly?
Nearly half of all parents make mistakes when measuring liquid medicine
Even the most conscientious parents make mistakes. In a recent study from Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, researchers found that nearly 700,000 children under age 6 were given an incorrect medication dose between 2002 and 2012. As result, 25 children died and 1,900 were hospitalized.
Most of the errors involved liquid medications — over-the-counter pain relievers, cough-and-cold remedies, prescription antibiotics and other drugs given to babies and young children. The problem? It’s easy to use the wrong measuring device, misunderstand the dose or forget to tell another caregiver when it’s time for the next one.
Getting it right matters. “Underdosing can result in lack of therapeutic response, and overdosing can result in adverse drug events,” noted the authors of a 2012 study in which one in nine volunteers measured out liquid medicine doses that were too big or too small.
A whopping 40 percent of parents measured liquid meds for kids incorrectly in a recent New York University School of Medicine study.
These steps can help you get it right.
Use the right dose of the right medicine. When choosing an over-the-counter liquid medicine for a baby or toddler, make sure it’s safe for kids younger than 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges. And don’t give “infant drops” to older kids. Liquid medicines for babies may be stronger than formulas for toddlers and older kids.
Check the chart for the right dose. Use your child’s current weight, not his age, to get the most the accurate dose, the AAP says. Call your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not certain about the dose, how often to give your child the medicine or how long they should continue taking it.
Go with expert-recommended measuring devices. In several studies, oral medicine-dosing syringes produced the most accurate results. In a 2010 study from the University of California, San Francisco School of Pharmacy, 67 percent of volunteers measured out the right amount of a liquid pain reliever with a syringe, compared to just 15 percent who used a dosing cup.
You can buy an oral medicine syringe at the drugstore. Experts recommend using one with a brightly colored cap so you remember to remove it. This is especially important if you premeasure medicine doses for a caregiver to give to an infant or child. Infants have choked when caregivers forgot to remove the cap, notes the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
If you do use a measuring cup, make sure it’s the one that came with the medicine. Using one from another drug could lead to an overdose or an under-dose. That’s because different cups may be marked with different measuring units (like teaspoons, tablespoons or milliliters).Make sure the units on the cup or syringe match the units of the dose you want to give.
As you measure, check the liquid at eye level. Use the numbers and lines to be sure you’re measuring the right amount. If you’re using a dosing cup, put it on a flat surface and pour the medicine into it — don’t hold the cup in your hand.
Don’t measure with kitchen spoons. When University of Minnesota researchers asked 130 parents and caregivers to choose the “measuring device” they use at home to give kids liquid meds, 73 percent said they grab a household teaspoon.That’s a problem. The teaspoons we use aren’t all the same size, notes the NIH. They may hold anywhere from a half teaspoon to 2 teaspoons of liquid. Measuring teaspoons used for baking are more accurate, but they spill too easily.
Ask your pharmacist for a quick lesson. Not sure how to use a medicine syringe? Confused about the markings on a dosing cup or instructions on the package? Ask the pharmacist for help. When pharmacists gave quick lessons to 125 drugstore patrons in a 2010 study from West Virginia’s Shenandoah University, the number who measured wrong dropped from 24 percent to 4 percent. Ask the pharmacist to mark the right dose on the cup or syringe.
Make sure you understand the measurement. Dose instructions on over-the-counter and prescription meds can be confusing. In a 2014 study of 649 prescription drug labels for children’s liquid meds, researchers from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia found a dizzying variety of instructions. Sixty-two percent gave doses in milliliters, 29 percent used teaspoons and 7 percent of drug packages used milligrams or cubic centimeters.
Do this for better accuracy. Check doses and measure medicine in a brightly lit room. Wear your glasses so you can read the often-tiny dose chart. Make sure you’re not distracted while giving kids liquid meds. And write down the time you gave your child their dose, so that you or another caregiver will know when it’s time for the next one.
Store it safely. Put the cap back on as soon as you’ve poured your dose. If you live in a house with small children, be sure the cap is childproof. Wash and dry medicine cups and syringes after each use. Some prescription drugs require refrigeration; put these back in the fridge right away.To avoid mix-ups, store liquid meds for kids and adults in separate spots.