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A Spoonful of Medicine May be Too Much

October 1, 2016
Plain English Version

MedicationWhat is it going to be: a milliliter, a milligram, a teaspoon, a tablespoon, a dropper?

Every year about 10,000 people contact a poison center. They are afraid they have taken too much medication. Most of these calls are about children younger than 12 years of age.

Expert groups are recommending a change. They want to adopt a single unit of measurement. Their choice is the milliliter.

Americans do not seem to like metric measurement. They prefer teaspoons.

A new study says something different. Parents who give doses in milliliters make fewer errors. Teaspoons and tablespoon are not as accurate.

In the study, nearly half the parents did not give the right amount of medication.  Many used utensils like soup spoons. These parents made more than twice as many mistakes as parents using milliliters.

Milliliter prescriptions use syringes or dosing cups. A syringe with milliliter markings is an exact measure.

Few parents have such devices. An expert said, “A kitchen spoon is less precise. There are no markings on it. They vary in size. You could way overdose.”

Confusion between a teaspoon and a tablespoon is a common error. A tablespoon is three times larger than a teaspoon. An overdose could result. Underdosing is also common. This could lead to the need for stronger medicines when the child does not recover.The abbreviations for a teaspoon (tsp) and a tablespoon (tbsp) are similar.  Parents can misread a  doctor’s handwriting. Parents could misread a label. A druggist might give the dose in teaspoons when he does not have a milliliter syringe or cup.

The abbreviation for milliliter is mL.

The movement to milliliter is well underway. Researchers believe it will help all parents give more accurate doses to their children.

Source: The New York Times July 15, 2014

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