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.

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