Medication dosing mistakes are common

medicine syringe for kidsWhether you have a child with special needs or not, chances are you have given him medication at some point. A recent study published in Pediatrics revealed that many parents made mistakes when giving their child medication. “Medication errors were common: 39.4% of parents made an error in measurement of the intended dose, 41.1% made an error in the prescribed dose. Furthermore, 16.7% used a nonstandard instrument.”

The study compared parents who used milliliter-only cups or syringes with parents who used teaspoon or tablespoons to describe how they measured their child’s medicine. The researchers found that parents who described measuring the medication in teaspoons or tablespoons were twice as likely to make a mistake in giving the correct dose.

In addition, many parents did not understand the correct amount of medicine to give their child and mixed up the measuring terms. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Parent mix up of terms like milliliter, teaspoon and tablespoon contribute to more than 10,000 poison center calls each year.”

Why does this happen?

One reason is because all spoons are not created equal. Dosing mistakes happen because people confuse teaspoons with tablespoons. Did you know that one tablespoon equals three teaspoons?!

Another reason is that people use everyday kitchen spoons instead of medication measuring spoons which are specifically designed to give an accurate dose. Again, the differences in the spoons can produce very different amounts of medicine given to your child.

What can you do?

• When measuring meds, use the oral syringe, dropper, or cup that comes with the medication. Do not use one medicine’s cup for another medicine. Measure carefully and exactly.

• Do not use kitchen teaspoons or tablespoons because there is a wide variety of kitchen spoons which can hold vastly different amounts of liquid.

• If you are giving a non-prescription medication (such as Tylenol or any over-the-counter medicine), be sure to give the dose that is based on your child’s weight, not his age. If in doubt, ask a doctor, nurse, physician assistant or pharmacist.

• Keep a log. Use your smartphone or a notebook to record the medication, date, time and amount that you gave your child. It is very easy to forget when you gave your child a medication, especially if you are giving more than one medication at different times during the day. Parental fatigue, multitasking and stress can also cause you to forget.  In addition, a medication “log” is very important if more than one person is giving medicine to your child.

• If in doubt, ask your child’s health care provider or your pharmacist. It could save your child’s life.

Learn more

• Check out the AAP’s video guide on how to measure meds and read about useful medication tips here.

The study’s authors suggest that children’s liquid medications only be prescribed in milliliters to help eliminate dosing mistakes or confusion. The AAP and CDC support this change. What do you think?

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input.

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