Children’s Medicines: Know Your Dose

Prevent Poison Control Calls... Dose your kids' medicine right.Your son is growing so fast, and complains occasionally of muscle aches in his legs.  You want to give him a dose of acetaminophen, but all you have is liquid, and you can’t find a dosage cup.  With 15 other things on your mind, you make a quick decision and grab a teaspoon from the drawer.  One, two spoonfuls… that’s about right.


Really, you have no way of knowing – and this common scenario plays out time and time again across the nation.  According to a recent study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 10,000 calls are made to the poison center each year because of liquid medication dosage errors.  That’s more than a child per hour, every hour around the clock.

Overdosing Kids: What’s the Cause?

Of course we’re not trying to poison our kids.  But the study suggests that a reason the parents may overdose their children is because they’re confused about the measurement units.  Do you know the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon?  We know that the tablespoon is bigger, but when abbreviated, are you sure you know the difference between the two?  And what about milliliters?  When all you have is a dosage cup with teaspoons, how do you figure out the amount to give your child?  Dr. Shonna Yin, author of the study, noted that the problem with teaspoon and tablespoon measurements is that their names sound similar, and their abbreviations look similar.  It can definitely cause confusion – especially in this day and age when parents have so many things on their minds.

In the study, about 40% of parents measured their child’s dosage incorrectly.

Interestingly, parents who measured their child’s medication in milliliters were much less likely to make a dosage mistake. Pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu said that to decrease the liklihood of medication errors, in her practice, doctors prescribe in milliliters only.  She says, “If I give a sample of a liquid medication in my office, I also give a syringe and show the parent where the marking is for the dose.”

Dosage Safety

Here are a few tips for making sure your child’s medication is dosed properly and safely.

  • Even if you have standard dosing cups and/or spoons at home, always use the dosing device provided with the medication at the pharmacy.
  • In all events, kitchen spoons are not to standard and vary wildly in volume.  They are simply not safe to use.
  • Write down the time and dose of each medication you’re giving your child to ensure you’re not giving too much or too often.
  • Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using milliliters as the standard unit of measurement, make sure any OTC medications or prescriptions are dosed in this standard of measurement.

If you have any concerns that you have given your child an overdose of medication, call the Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.


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