Medicine Measured by “Teaspoonful”… Misleading



We probably can assume Mary Poppins was referring to a kitchen spoon when she recommended administering a “spoonful of sugar” to help the medicine go down. Just how much sugar does she think will do the trick? A “tea” spoonful, a “soup” spoonful or a large “mixing” spoonful? Perhaps bigger is better, as long as you brush your teeth afterwards. But in the case of medicine, spoon size matters, say researchers.

Measuring medicine by the teaspoonful might seem obvious, but it actually may not be in light of a recent study of how parents give their children medicine, published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

When labels listed dosages by the teaspoonful, one in six parents reached for a spoon from the kitchen drawer to administer medicine to her children.

Tableware Is Not a Measuring Device

The problem is that common tableware teaspoons are not accurate measuring devices. They range in size from 2.5 ml to 9.5 ml (milliliters), while the size of “teaspoon” markings on syringes, droppers and plastic cup medicine dispensers is 5 ml. That leaves too much margin for error.

In fact, parents who measured doses in spoonfuls were 50 percent more likely to give incorrect doses than those who measured in milliliters, says the study. The results can be dangerous. Underdosing may not completely treat the child’s illness and can lead to an outbreak of resistant strains of the disease. Overdosing may cause negative side effects that can be life-threatening.

Misleading Labels

Many labels give dosages specifically in milliliters (ml). But the same labels often include teaspoon dosage amounts as well. Parents may skip reading the ml dosage and go straight to the teaspoon amounts. And authors of the study reported that parents often assumed the term “teaspoon” meant a “similar-sized kitchen spoon.”

The ideal tools for giving medicine are syringes and droppers that measure in milliliters. Not only do they measure an accurate amount of medicine, they also are easier to use with infants and the elderly. Less spill and slosh means the patient is more likely to ingest the entire amount.

Preventing Overdoses

 Children can receive accidental overdoses several ways. Dad might give a dose without realizing Mom already has given it to the child. A parent may give two different remedies for separate symptoms without realizing they contain the same active ingredients. Children may eat or drink medicines left out on the counter, in an unlocked cabinet or near the bed after already receiving a bedtime dose.  

Considering that children get colds six to 10 times per year, parents can’t afford to use the wrong size measuring device. The website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 70,000 emergency department visits resulting from unintentional medication overdoses among children under the age of 18. It also reports one out of every 151 2-year-olds is treated in an emergency department for an unintentional medication overdose.

So measure sugar by the spoonful and medicine by the milliliter.

 

Karen Kight researches and writes updates on recurring parent/family topics.

As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.

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