Accurate Dosages for Children's Cold Medicine

Cold and flu season is approaching, which means parents will soon be giving their children liquid medications to relieve symptoms. According to a study published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics, many parents make errors giving liquid dosage medication, yet research on ways to improve dosage techniques and clarifying medication labels for parents has been limited.

In their findings, a team of researchers used a randomized control trial in three urban pediatric clinics, and assigned English or Spanish-speaking parents into one of five treatment arms. After parents were separated into groups, they were asked to measure nine doses of medication by filling three different dosages using three different tools, including a cup and oral syringes with varying increments. The team found that more than 80 percent of the parents made at least one dosing error, with more than 20 percent who doubled the intended dosage amount.

Different health literacy groups also found that parents made more errors with dosage cups than they did with syringes. After all, if a cup is not held at eye level, it is easy to misread the amount of liquid actually in the cup. In addition, a higher rate of error was made when using a teaspoon-only label rather than using a mL-only label. Researchers concluded that using syringes instead of cups would improve accuracy overall, but simply replacing the tool without proper language support will not have the desired effect.

Medication for children is unique in their liquid formulation, but this poses a challenge for consistent accuracy. The FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend the use of tools when administering children’s liquid medications, but no national guidelines for the provision of these tools to parents currently exist.

The FDA and the AAP’s establishment of these guidelines would greatly benefit parent’s health literacy, which is an important factor in their children’s health. The amount of medication they give their children is only a part of the big picture. Parents of all language and income backgrounds who work closely with their children’s pediatricians should ensure that they are using correct methods and tools for their children.

Click here to read the full study.