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Many Parents Give Kids the Wrong Dose of Medicine

Photograph by Twenty20

A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but are you giving your kids the right dose of medicine?

According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, many parents give children too much or too little liquid medication. And if you're using a dosing cup or spoons instead of an oral syringe, the dosing error is much higher.

Researchers had 2,100 parents of children age 8 or younger measure out nine doses of liquid medication after reading labeling instructions. There were three possible doses (2.5 milliliters, 5 milliliters and 7.5 milliliters) and three possible measuring devices (oral dosing syringe marked in 2-milliliter increments, another in 5-milliliter increments and a measuring cup).

Unlike most prescription drugs taken by adults, those for kids are usually in liquid form, which puts the burden of measurement on the parents. Turns out, 83 percent of parents made at least one dosing mistake—and more than 20 percent of parents made a dosing error that was more than twice the dose listed on the label. Additionally, the study found that parents were four times more likely to make an error with a cup than with a syringe. All these errors were made even though parents were monitored by researchers.

The problem with the little measuring cups is that “even if you make what looks like a small error on a cup, that translates into more volume than it would on a syringe,” Dr. Shonna Yin, lead author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics and population health at the New York University School of Medicine, told "Today."

Most of the errors in the study were related to overdosing, which can have huge consequences for small children. According to a separate 2014 study, 696,937 children under 6 years old experienced out-of-hospital medication errors from 2012 to 2013. That's one child every eight minutes. Of that number, 0.3 percent were admitted to a critical care unit and 25 children died.

It's not hard to see why parents are making errors. So many things can go wrong, especially if there's a sick baby screaming for you in the middle of the night, because there are so many factors involved. Do you use a dispensing cup or a syringe? What's the difference between milliliters and teaspoons? Does your kitchen spoon actually measure out a tablespoon?

So, the next time you get a liquid medication for the kids, be sure to hold the measuring cup flat and at eye level. But to be even safer and more accurate, ask your pediatrician for oral syringes instead of measuring cups, especially when small doses are recommended.

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