A new study may help explain why medication errors – and accidental overdoses – are surprisingly common among children. Almost all of the over-the-counter medications tested have confusing instructions or other problems that increase the risk that caregivers will give kids the wrong dose, according to a study of 200 children’s liquid medicines, in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association.Twenty-six percent of products had no dispensers, such as a cup or medicine dropper, forcing parents to measure out doses themselves, the study says.
That’s a recipe for trouble, says author H. Shonna Yin, assistant professor of pediatrics at the New York University School of Medicine. Regular spoons tend to be much larger than measuring teaspoons and tablespoons.
But even products with dispensers had problems. Label instructions on 99 per cent of these products conflicted with markings on the dispensing cup or dropper. For example, some labels list doses in teaspoons, but cups are marked in tablespoons. She adds many packages and cups abbreviates teaspoons and tablespoons incorrectly.
Nearly 5,700 children end up in the emergency room each year because their caregivers accidentally gave them an overdose of over-the-counter medications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even more children go to the hospital after getting hold of medications and swallowing them when no adults are around, says the CDC’s Dan Budnitz.
Manufacturers could help clear up the confusion by marking everything in milliliters, says Darren DeWalt of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who wrote an accompanying editorial.
Caregivers who are unsure about dosages should take time to check with a child’s pediatrician, pharmacist or poison control center.