Many children's medicines come in liquid form. Household spoons may be handy for giving children liquid medicines, but using them is not a good way to give the correct dose. Parents and educators should use a syringe, special medicine cup, special dosing spoon or dropper. These devices are marked in milliliters (mL).
Different household teaspoons hold different amounts of liquids. Tablespoons vary in size too. A spoon that gives too little medicine may keep the medicine from working. If a spoon gives too much medicine, the overdose may cause a serious problem. For example, repeatedly giving a child too much acetaminophen (Tylenol)can lead to liver failure. More than 70,000 children go to emergency rooms each year for accidental medicine overdoses. Use of the wrong measuring device causes some of these. Many liquid medicines come with a special dose measuring device calibrated to accurately measure the particular medication. Be sure to use it. If there is no device with the medication, a pharmacist can provide one. If a syringe is used, squirt the medication slowly and gently between the child's tongue and the side of the mouth. This makes it easier for the child to swallow the medicine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents, physicians and pharmacists to use only metric measurements for oral liquid medications. Metric measurements for liquids in milliliters (ml) or cubic centimeters (cc) should be on prescriptions, medication labels, and dosing devices. This helps children get the correct dose of medication. Do not measure liquid medication in teaspoons or tablespoons.
Please share this information with teachers/caregivers and families. Download and display the new poster in English and in Spanish. Copy and distribute the updated article - also available in both English and Spanish. To access the article in in Spanish, click on "en Espanol" on the page. On the same page, you can listen to the article read to you in English or Spanish.
Families and early childhood educators need to understand how much medicine to give. They should know how often and how long to give it. If they are uncertain about the instructions, they should not give the medication until they have asked the child's health care provider about how to do it. Use the forms in the Medication Administration Packet, Appendix X in Model Child Care Health Policies, 5th edition. This publication is available at www.ecels-healthychildcarepa.org.
Health professionals recommend keeping medicine out of children's reach. Use child safety caps, understanding that these are not "child-proof". They make it harder for the child to open the medicine, giving adults more time to stop the child from getting the medicine. Check labels carefully before giving two medicines together because they may have the same ingredient. Do not mix medicine with food unless the instructions on the medicine say to do so. Also, urge families to bring a list of all medicines the child is taking each time the child sees a health professional.
For medicine mistakes, call the Poison Help number at 800-222-1222. If the child is unconscious, not breathing or having seizures, call 911 first. Be careful when getting rid of unused medicines. In some places, you can drop off medicines at a police department. Make sure to remove labels with personal details. Another way to safely dispose of medicines is to mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter in a plastic bag you can seal. Throw this sealed bag away in a trash container where children and animals can't get to it. Don't dump the medicine in the toilet or drain, unless the medicine label says it is safe to do it. If you aren't sure how to dispose of a medicine, ask a pharmacist about what to do.
Contributed by Nancy Alleman, ECELS Lead Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator, in collaboration with Ian M. Paul, M.D., M.Sc., FAAP, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs.