Child medication measurements confuse parents
July 14th, 2014
11:03 AM ET

Child medication measurements confuse parents

Do you know the difference between teaspoons and tablespoons?

Many parents don’t, according to a study published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which found more than 10,000 calls to the poison center each year are due to liquid medication dosage errors.

The study says part of the reason parents may be confused is because a range of measurement units - such as teaspoons, tablespoons and milliliters - are often used interchangeably on labels for prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Parents who used the teaspoon and tablespoon dosage were much more likely to use kitchen spoons to measure their child’s medication and were twice as likely to make an error in medication, according to the study. Parents who measured their child’s medication in milliliters were much less likely to make a dosage mistake.

About 40% of parents in the study incorrectly measured the dose their doctor prescribed.

The problem with teaspoon and tablespoon measurements is that their names sound similar, and their abbreviations, tsp. and tbsp., look similar, study author Dr. Shonna Yin said.

Pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu said that in her practice, doctors prescribe in milliliters only, to decrease the likelihood of medication errors and overdoses.

“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,” Shu said.

Parents should always use the dosing device, such as the cup or syringe, that comes with their child's liquid medication. Kitchen spoons are not a standard dosing device and aren’t safe to use, Shu said.

Shu also recommends that parents record the time and dosage of medicine they give their child, to make sure that they’re not giving too much or too often.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices have all recommended using milliliters as the only standard unit of measurement for liquid medications.

According to the study, adopting a milliliter-only unit of measurement would reduce confusion and decrease medication errors, especially for parents with low health literacy or limited English proficiency.

If you suspect you have given your child an incorrect dose of medication, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

soundoff (1,530 Responses)
  1. bill


    July 14, 2014 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Su

      I'm guessing that the same 40% also don't know how to follow a cooking recipe, which also use the same measurement system.

      July 15, 2014 at 01:27 | Report abuse |
  2. bill

    1tsp ~ 5ml
    1tbsp ~15 ml or 3 tsp.

    Buy a $.50 measuring tool to give your kids meds.

    July 14, 2014 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. 100% metric

    In 1979 all the parents were told the U.S. was switching over to the metric system. That never happened. As a scientist, I learned and exclusively use the metric system and I am very familiar with the archiac U.S. system, which nobody else in the world uses. Get with the picture, people, and stop demonstrating the consequences of natural selection.

    July 14, 2014 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eric

      So thats why the penalty spot in soccer is a standard 10 yards... I guess the rest of the world really isn't fully metric.

      July 15, 2014 at 11:10 | Report abuse |
    • ORChuck

      I'm an electrical engineer. Electronics has been 100% metric virtually since its inception.

      So, tell me this: many of the electrical connectors on the products I work on are made in Germany. They have contacts on 5.08mm centers? Why not 5 or 5.1? Why 5.08? The answer is that 5.08mm is 2/10th of an inch. So, while the dimension is given in metric units, millimeters, the design is really in inches

      July 15, 2014 at 17:28 | Report abuse |
    • metricpioneer

      Consider registering at Metric Pioneer dot com

      July 16, 2014 at 10:55 | Report abuse |
  4. mickinmd

    As "100% metric" noted, I'm also a scientist who realizes the U.S. is spiting itself by avoiding the metric system that EVERY other advanced nation – including the British – use.
    Not only do we make things difficult for ourselves, we limit the exports we can make to the rest of the work. Caterpillar, at one point, realized it could save money by buying 25 mm. thick steel from a foreign company than 1" thick (25.4 mm.) steel from an American company.
    American repair shops have to carry Inch based tools as well as metric, adding thousands per worker in equipment costs.

    July 14, 2014 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Archivedd

      Ok, but how would that help a parent who is trying to dispense medication without the proper equipment? You can prescribe the dosage in the most accurate manner possible and still have people administer it incorrectly because of a lack of proper tools.

      July 15, 2014 at 16:16 | Report abuse |
  5. SixDegrees

    "About 40% of parents in the study incorrectly measured the dose their doctor prescribed."

    Proving once again that about half the population is below average.

    July 14, 2014 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Whatnow

      Yes, and probably shouldn't reproduce until that can read write and do basic math.

      July 14, 2014 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
    • GR of PA

      @WhatNow – Was that meant to be a joke? If not, I hope you are not reproducing.

      July 15, 2014 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
    • Lojack

      By definition; half of the population IS below average!

      July 15, 2014 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Lojack... That is false. The median is a statistic that would place 50% below/above it. The average however doesn't always fall in the middle of a distribution. So by definition you are incorrect.

      July 15, 2014 at 11:12 | Report abuse |
  6. Walter, Scourge of the Seven Seas

    Proof that the 40% indicated are morons.

    July 14, 2014 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Willoo

      I once had a coworker ask me how much a 1/4 cup was in a recipe. I can only imagine how many times she poisoned her kids.

      July 15, 2014 at 14:30 | Report abuse |
  7. Hubert Boyd

    further as a scientist, i devoutly wish the USA would adopt the metric system and abandon the 'English' system, as our English friends have. We and two other equally intellectually devoid societies are still the only ones not plugged in!

    July 14, 2014 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alan Young

      Hi Hubert Boyd,

      If only you were right about us in the UK completing changing to metric! Unfortunately, while most things are designed and manufactured in metric units, many people still use the imperial units (the English system as I believe you call it and the Medieval system as I call it). I have a website devoted to the damage this continued use of medieval units is doing to our children's education. You can see it at http://www.drmetric.com

      I wouldn't be surprised if you had exactly the same problems in your country!

      August 27, 2014 at 16:26 | Report abuse |
  8. jmg

    Having studied science and engineering extensively, I am very familiar with the metric system. Much more difficult to make stupid mistakes because the changes between units are done by 10, not something silly like 8 oz per cup, 2 cups per pint, 2 pints per quart, 4 quarts per gallon. I also lived in Europe for 3 years and adjusting to liters, meters, kilograms and celsius is pretty easy. Just do it and in a few years everyone will figure it out.

    July 14, 2014 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. mom

    The syringe thing that comes with kid medication does not always work well. That is huge problem, in my opinion.

    July 14, 2014 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jakes_Momma

      You should invest in one purchased separate from the medication. They work a little better. I have a child with epilepsy and we've done meds multiple times a day now for over a decade. There are a couple of other handy items for dosage that make it easier. You can find them at most drug stores near the children's OTC cold medication.

      July 15, 2014 at 14:56 | Report abuse |
  10. Katie

    How about instead of making fun of parents or blaming them or insisting they shouldn't procreate, we make clearer labels on the meds and start educating everybody about measurements? Education! Now there's an unwelcome concept in this country. SOOO much easier and lazier to just point fingers and sneer.

    July 15, 2014 at 06:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jakes_Momma

      Thank you Katie – well said!

      July 15, 2014 at 14:57 | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      Really? If they can't do something as simple as reading instructions they shouldn't be reproducing. Or maybe there should be a tax funded class for them, but then if they don't attend it will somehow be the fault of someone else, right?

      July 15, 2014 at 16:07 | Report abuse |
  11. Gaousul azam

    Then researcher should concentrate for new parameters to easier dosage schedule.

    July 15, 2014 at 06:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. portlandtony

    Jeez, we use syringes for oral meds for babies, farm animals and pets. With pictures we may be able to show parents how to dispense the proper dosage of meds to older kids!

    July 15, 2014 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. WERT



    July 15, 2014 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Archivedd

      Yes, well said, my good man.

      July 15, 2014 at 16:13 | Report abuse |
  14. RTYERTYE45345634




    July 15, 2014 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. SWest

    I've been buying children's medication for the past 7 years, OTC and prescription. Every single one has come with either a syringe-type dispenser (in the case of infant meds) or a small cup that is clearly labeled with both tsp and ml. What medication are these parents giving to their kids that it doesn't come with a clearly labeled dispenser? Adult meds?

    Also, it's sad when 40% of parents have no idea how to use measuring tools–did they never cook or bake? My 2nd grader has a basic knowledge of units of measurement. It's sad that many adults don't have the same.

    July 15, 2014 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Terry

    The second to last paragrph says it all. Let's adapt to the non English speakers.

    July 15, 2014 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. deeds

    I wonder the percentage of lousy parents that pour this drug down their children to knock them out and get them out of their faces? I know it's high and this drug should be taken off the market because doctors could care less how much a child gets as long as they keep bringing the child back for business.

    July 16, 2014 at 02:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. dan

    I personally think this is less of a metric system issue and more of an issue with the education of today's adults...

    August 30, 2014 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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