Syringes Safest for Giving Kids Medicine, Study Shows

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Having a sick child is every parent's anxiety trigger, but many parents do not know that a young one's illness can include additional concern — that extra worry can manifest when parents make mistakes in measuring the medication they give to their kids.

A new study suggests that using a syringe instead of a spoon or a cup could help moms and dads avoid medicinal overdoses, writes CNN's Susan Scutti.

"When parents used dosing cups, they had four times the odds of making a dosing error, compared to when they used an oral syringe," said Dr. Shonna Yin, an associate professor at NYU Medical School and a co-author of the study, published today in the journal Pediatrics.

Usually, pain relievers and other medications made specifically for children are manufactured in liquid form. This fact means that accuracy is essential, and, for that reason, syringes are considered more reliable. Still, other variables can cause parental confusion and concern as well.

There is no standardization in the areas of packaging, dosing instructions, and labeling of children's drugs.

"A range of measurement units (eg, milliliter, teaspoon, tablespoon), along with their associated abbreviations, are used as part of instructions on labels and dosing tools, contributing to confusion and multifold errors," wrote Yin and her co-authors.

As other studies have also found, the health literacy of the parent can result in a greater risk for making mistakes in dosing. For parents who speak another language, the instructions can be a challenge to understand.

Measuring units can also be confusing when the tools for administering the medicine are divided into teaspoons, milliliters, or ounces. The study team advises parents to make this one change: use only syringes for every medication.

The scientists conducted their research at pediatric outpatient clinics in New York, Stanford, California, and Atlanta. Participants included 2,110 caregivers of youngsters 8-years-old and younger.

The respondents were mostly mothers, 77% of whom had "low" to "marginal" health literacy. The health literacy rating was measured by asking participants to assess a nutrition label. Then, parents were given descriptions and dosing instruments and were instructed to measure nine doses using a variety of tools with differing increments.

Of the guardians, 84.4% made one or more mistakes in measuring. And among all parents, more errors resulted when caregivers were using cups than syringes, particularly when small doses were measured. Also, 68% of the subjects poured too much medicine.

Giving too much liquid medicine to a child is a dangerous mistake and can often be avoided through the use of syringes. There is also the danger of not giving young people enough of the medicine that has been prescribed to them, says Reuters.

The old-fashioned method of using a kitchen spoon to give children their medicine is no longer recommended. First, spoons measure inaccurately, and secondly ensuring that the complete dose of the medication goes into the mouth of the child is difficult when using a teaspoon.

Dr. Max Gomez of CBS New York informed his listeners that the amount of medicine prescribed to a small child is usually based on weight.

"With overdoses we worry that child will experience side effects, be harmed by that medication, and when meds are underdosed, we also worry that the child's illness may not be effectively treated," Dr. Yin said.

CBS News' Dennis Thompson reports that the research team found over 20% of parents made at least one error that was over two times the dosage that was described on the drug's label.

Dr. Blair Hammond, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, added that giving youngsters too little of their medicine is a problem, especially where antibiotics are concerned, which must be given at the correct amount over the exactly prescribed time table.

Parents can ask their pediatrician or pharmacist for an oral syringe, and they can mark the tool with tape or marker to make measuring more exact.

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