Health Education

Measuring your child’s medicine properly is more important than you think

By | May 1, 2019

When your kid is sick, you want to help them find relief—fast. But in a rush to help them feel better, nearly 40 percent of parents accidentally give their children the wrong amount of medicine, which puts their health in jeopardy.

“Though not all such errors result in harm, there are definitely risks of both under-treatment and overdose, depending on the medication and the condition being treated,” said Dr. Michael Grosso, the chair of pediatrics and chief medical officer at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in New York.

Give your child too little medicine and symptoms may worsen. But he or she could get even sicker if you give too much of even the safest medications. Take Benadryl, for example.

“Benadryl is very common to be given to kids for allergic reactions, itchy skin rashes and bug bites,” said Dr. Shari Platt, the chief of pediatric emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine. “But too much Benadryl can cause serious side effects, like sedation, respiratory depression, and even seizures.”

Dosing children’s medicine correctly isn’t hard, but there are a few things parents should keep in mind. Here are three tips for making sure your child gets the right amount of medicine.

1. Use a proper dosing device

One in five parents say it’s OK to measure over-the-counter medicines with a household spoon. But “parents should never use a kitchen teaspoon or tablespoon in dosing liquid medicine,” Dr. Grosso said. Cutlery comes in all shapes and sizes, which means you won’t get a correct measurement.

And those little plastic measuring cups that come with liquid medicine? Not your best bet, either. “Parents in one study selected the wrong dose almost 50 percent of the time with these cups,” Dr. Grosso explained.

Instead, your safest option is to pick up a syringe or dropper with clearly labeled measurements from your pharmacy.

2. Double check units

It’s all too easy to mix up teaspoons and tablespoons, so be sure to double check the measurement—especially if you think you saw “tablespoon” on the dosing instructions.

“We very rarely give a dose in tablespoons,” Dr. Platt said. “The standard dose is one teaspoon, which is five milliliters, but always go by what’s on the bottle.”

Parents should also be careful not to mix up teaspoons and milliliters. “If the measurement is supposed to be five milliliters, but you give five teaspoons instead, you’ll have a 25 milliliter dose and that’s way too much,” she said.

3. Dose based on weight, not age

The instructions on children’s medicine may tell you how much they should take based on their age. However, doctors say you should actually use your child’s weight to determine the right amount.

“We calculate all medicine for children based on their weight,” Dr. Platt explained. “So if you have a very small 8-year-old child, you might want to give them a dose for a 4-year-old.”

Healthychildren.org, a website from the American Academy of Pediatrics, offers dosing advice for some of the most common children’s medicines that can help you figure out the right amount. With that said, nothing beats the advice of a doctor: Ask your pediatrician about the right medicine and dose for your child if you’re unsure.