Giving Your Child Liquid Medicine

Liquid medicines are often prescribed or are available over-the–counter (OTC), for infants and young children because they are easier to swallow. In order for these medications to be effective, it's very important that the correct dose is administered.

A recent study found that 39.4 percent of parents improperly measured the dose they intended, and ultimately 41.1 percent made an error in measuring what their doctor had prescribed.

A lot of the confusion transpires when the medicine does not come with a dose applicator. Parents and caregivers often use a kitchen teaspoon or tablespoon to measure the liquid. Kitchen teaspoons and tablespoons are rarely accurate, so children can end up receiving either too much or too little medicine.

If you're giving your child an OTC liquid medicine, read the "Drug Facts" on the label. This should tell you what the medicine is for, how to use it, what is in it, and what to watch out for.

Check to see how much of the medicine is recommended. The first choice for dosing should be weight but if age is the only option available, go by that.  Speak to the pharmacist or your pediatrician about age adjustment if you know or suspect your child is heavier or lighter than a typical child of that age group.

Always check the label to make sure that the medicine is safe for infants or toddlers younger than 2 years.

If you're giving a prescription medicine, these will most likely have a different label than OTC medicines. You should see the name of the medication, how much to give, how often to give it and how long to give it.

Many people think that drops are less potent than syrup for children. Typically, drops are more concentrated than syrups and should be administered carefully. Parents often make the mistake of given a "little bit more" thinking they are helping their child, but are actually putting their child at risk for an overdose.

When giving liquid medicines, follow the directions exactly and use the correct measuring appliance to give it. Giving too much medicine over a period of time can lead to other serious health issues.

Medicines can be measured 3 different ways. You may see instructions for teaspoon (tsp), Tablespoon (Tbsp / TBSP), or milliliters (mL, ml, mLs).

Here's what these measurements look like when they are translated into other measurements:

  • 1 teaspoon (tsp) = 5 milliliters (mL)
  • 3 teaspoons (tsp) = 1 Tablespoon (TBSP)
  • 1 Tablespoon (TBSP) = 15 milliliters (mL)

Measuring cups normally come with cold and flu medications.  Never mix cups from different products. This can easily happen when a particular medicine's cup is misplaced and another product's cup is substituted. Not all measuring cups are the same.

Make sure the cup is level when you fill it and that the medicine is not above or below the recommended measurement line. You can always ask the pharmacist to mark the correct line for your child if you are not sure.

Dosing spoons are also used to help older children acquire the correct amount of liquid. Use only the spoon that comes with the medicine. Be sure to use the lines and numbers to get the right amount for your child. Again, you can always ask your pharmacist to mark the right line if you are not sure.

Droppers or syringes are the most common applicators for infants and children who may have a difficult time swallowing from a cup or spoon. Medicine droppers have markings that indicate doses on the syringe under the squeeze bulb. Look at the numbers on the side of the dropper or syringe. Use the numbers to fill it to the right line. One teaspoon (tsp) is the same as 5 mL.

Finally, never place the medicine in the back of your child's throat. This could cause your infant or little one to choke. Just squirt it gently on the tongue or the side of the mouth.

The pictures below will give you a visual reference for measurements listed above.


Liquid Medicine Cup

Liquid Dosing Spoon

Liquid Medicine Dropper

Liquid Medicine Syringe

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