Parents’ Most Common Medicine Mistake Is Actually Very Dangerous

Giving kids medicine seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world. If we have measuring implements and a paper saying how much to give and when, we should be able to handle it. But new research indicates that a ton of parents are failing to give kids the right amount of medicine at the right time, and that can be really dangerous.

According to an article in the medical journal Pediatrics, the most common problem faced by children after hospital visits is that their parents are failing to accurately follow medication instructions. As Reuters points out, 38 percent of caregivers were not sure of the proper doses they were supposed to be giving. A lot of parents are giving their kids 20 percent more or less than they’re supposed to be giving, and this is happening with between 42 and 48 percent of the doses.

Measuring mistakes

Most of these problems occur with liquid medications. That makes a lot of sense, because liquid medications are a lot more difficult to measure out. When filling a cup of medicine, where is the top of the medicine line? Depending on the consistency of the medicine, some medicines appear convex in the cup or tube, others appear concave. If the bubble is convex, you measure to the top of it. If it’s concave, you measure to the bottom of it. Not everybody knows that, though. And that’s just one way dosage mistakes happen.

This, for example, is a properly measured 20 mL dose:


The researchers said that parents were much less likely to make dosing errors when the hospital staff made sure to demonstrate the correct way to fill the medication cups or syringes before the parents leave the hospital.

OTC medicines need care too

Mixing up medicine doses can be dangerous, though. Underdosing medications–even OTC medications like Tylenol–can make kids stay sick longer. Overdosing, of course, can create its own dangers.

“All medications must be used with caution ”” even things like eyedrops and ear drops can have side effects and cause significant complications,” Christopher Hanifin, chair of the department of physician assistant at Seton Hall University, told SheKnows.

For over-the-counter medicines, children’s doses are based on weight, not age. So always follow the weight dosage on the bottle. (Or ask your pediatrician for specific dosing instructions. Mine gave me a pound-by-pound printout for children’s ibuprofen and children’s acetaminophen telling me exactly how much to give her in a dose, depending on how much she weighed at the time.)

Medicine mistakes are a rampant problem in children’s health care. To help cut down on dosing mistakes, parents should make sure they understand all dosing instructions. Doctors also should be making sure their patients’ caregivers understand the instructions and how to measure a dose. These mistakes don’t seem to be happening out of carelessness. A bit of extra dialog should be able to make a big improvement.

(Image: iStockPhoto / artisteer)

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