When your child gets sick, chances are you want to do whatever you can to help them get better as quickly as possible. It's hard to see them feeling lousy or not being able to sleep, and if they're also running a fever? Well that can feel pretty scary. A variety of over-the-counter medications exist for little ones who are under the weather, but a recent study found that most parents give the wrong dose of medication to their kids without even realizing it. And those errors can have big consequences, sometimes leading to children being hospitalized.
According to TODAY Parents, the study, published in Pediatrics Monday, involved 2,110 parents, and analyzed how accurately they were able to measure out dosages of liquid medication according to the listed instructions. What researchers found was pretty shocking: more than 80 percent of those parents made at least one error. Of those errors, the most common involved pouring out too much medicine (this happened 68 percent of the time), suggesting just how easy it is for parents to accidentally give their children an overdose without even being aware that they were doing it. Yet, this type of error can cause major problems: an estimated 10 percent of hospital visits for medication-related issues involving children under the age of 12 are due to errors in dosing or administering.
Why are parents making so many medication mistakes? It largely comes down to the nature of liquid medicine, and the way different measuring spoons and cups can throw off accuracy. As Dr. Michael Grosso, medical director and chief medical officer of Northwell Health's Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y., told HealthDay,
Liquid measurement is complicated — teaspoons, tablespoons, dispensing cups and more. And how many people know what in the world a 'milliliter' is? We're asking parents to figure this all out at home, in the dark, with a feverish child.
Even if parents are able to discern the correct dose though, mistakes can still be made if, for example, the dosing cup or spoon isn't on an even surface, or checked at eye-level. And in general, researchers found that dosage cups were far more likely to result in errors than syringes, despite cups regularly being included with many children's medications.
In fact, even though dosage cups are common and seem like they'd be accurate, according to lead researcher Dr. Shonna Yin, parents were four times more likely to make an error when using a cup versus an oral syringe. And that is particularly concerning given that almost a quarter of participants made errors that would have resulted in their child receiving more than two times the dose they should have actually been given (!). But it's not just overdoses that can be problematic: too-low doses of other drugs, like antibiotics, can mean that the child won't be getting a high enough dose for the treatment to be effective.
The good news though is that, just by switching to an oral syringe for measurement, parents can greatly reduce the risk of measuring the wrong dose, because it's much more precise. An even better option? Measure out the dose in the dosage cup first, and then draw it up in the syringe to double-check the measurement. If a syringe is not provided with the medicine itself, parents can ask for one from a doctor or pharmacist.
Other important considerations for parents giving their children medication? Be careful about calculations. While many over-the-counter medications include dosage information based on age, those amounts are really just estimates — medication should always be administered according to a child's weight, according to Today's Parent, and any math involved should always be double-checked for accuracy. And although some medication dosages might involve 'teaspoons,' that doesn't mean that kitchen teaspoons will yield safe measurements (a syringe or dosage cup is still necessary, since kitchen teaspoons do not come in standard sizes). Most importantly, when in doubt, don't guess: measurements should be exact (not eye-balled!) and pharmacists can always help clarify how an accurate dose can be administered if there's any confusion.
Giving your child some over-the-counter medicine might seem safe and easy to do, but the reality is that it can be more complex than many people realize. Although these medications can help tremendously, giving the wrong dose can also cause harm, so accuracy and double-checking should absolutely be a priority no matter what.