By Caitlin St John
March 30, 2015
Liquid medicine

One of the most common medication mistakes parents make is measuring the incorrect amount of medicine. Thankfully, the latest dosage guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that parents should never use spoons (including teaspoons and tablespoons) as a measurement tool for children's medicine.

Instead, cups or syringes labeled with clear metric measurements in milliliters (mL) are the only way to ensure that children consume the correct dose of medication.

The smallest error in measurement can be toxic to a young child. "Each year more than 70,000 children visit emergency departments as a result of unintentional medication overdoses," states the AAP's press release. "Sometimes a caregiver will misinterpret milliliters for teaspoons. Another common mistake is using the wrong kind of measuring device, resulting in a child receiving two or three times the recommended dose."

Many over-the-counter medications cause confusion because labels recommend metric dosing, but measuring devices are also included that may be marked in teaspoons. Now, with the latest guidelines, "we are calling for a simple, universally recognized standard that will influence how doctors write prescriptions, how pharmacists dispense liquid medications and dosing cups, and how manufacturers print labels on their products," said Ian Paul, MD, pediatrician and lead author of the AAP statement.

In order to decrease confusion and a child's risk of potential overdoses, the AAP's 2015 policy statement includes the following updates to increase accuracy:

  • Standard measurement language should be adopted, including mL as the only appropriate abbreviation for milliliters. Liquid medications should be dosed to the nearest 0.1, 0.5, or 1 mL.
  • The dose frequency should be clearly stated on the label. Common language like "daily" should be used rather than medical abbreviations like 'qd', which could be misinterpreted as 'qid' (which, in the past, has been a common way for doctors to describe dosing four times daily).
  • Pediatricians should always review mL-based doses with families when they are prescribed.
  • Dosing devices should not have extra markings that can be confusing; they should not be significantly larger than the dose described on the label, to avoid two-fold dosing errors.
  • Drug manufacturers should eliminate labeling, instructions, and dosing devices that contain units other than metric units.

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She's a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

Image: Liquid medication via Shutterstock