Recognizing and Avoiding Medicine Errors
Written by Faith Anderson on January 18, 2013
Medicine Errors and Ways to Avoid Them
1. Overmedicating. Many OTC medicines contain the same active ingredient, even when they are designed to treat different symptoms. The most common example of this involves acetaminophen, one of the most common drugs in the U.S., which is found in numerous OTC cough, cold and flu medications. If you treat your child’s cough with a product containing acetaminophen, and his fever with a different product containing acetaminophen, he’ll get double the recommended dose.
Avoid this by: Only treating the major symptom in children older than four, and don’t give your child two medications at once unless directed by your child’s doctor.
2. Improperly measuring. Using a household kitchen spoon instead of standardized dosing spoons, syringes or cups can be problematic, since spoons can hold two to three times more liquid than the others. Even the devices that come with medicines can lead to improper measuring, however. According to a study from the New York University School of Medicine, 70% of parents pour more than the recommended amount of medication into dosing cups.
Avoid this by: Using a dosing spoon, dropper or syringe instead of a dosing cup or kitchen spoon. And be sure to always read the markings on the device carefully. “Teaspoon (tsp.) and tablespoon (Tbsp.) can look very similar,” says Stuart Levine, Pharm.D., of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. “If you mix them up, your child can get three times the recommended amount.”
3. Basing dose on your child’s age instead of weight. Children’s bodies metabolize medicines differently depending on how much they weigh, not how old they are. This is especially important to remember if your child is over- or underweight for his age, as this can result in too large or too small doses of medication.
Avoid this by: Consulting your child’s pediatrician before giving him an OTC medicine if his weight is higher or lower than what’s designated in the corresponding age category on the drug label. Your child’s doctor and pharmacist should also take your his weight into consideration when writing and filling prescriptions.
4. Failing to read the label. If your child takes medicine regularly, it’s easy to fall into a routine and forget to check the label for dosage instructions and the expiration date. Doctors and pharmacists also sometimes make mistakes when writing or filling prescriptions, which is another reason why reading the label is crucial.
Avoid this by: Making sure you can read the prescription that your child’s pediatrician writes. If you can’t, ask the doctor for the proper spelling and dosing information so you can write it down. Also be sure to ask your child’s pediatrician about changes to recurring prescriptions.
5. Using medicines for “off-label” purposes. Some parents give their children Benadryl to help them sleep on long flights, but research shows that 10% of children actually get more excitable, not calm, after taking the medication. When researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center conducted research which the intention of showing that Benadryl causes drowsiness, they instead found that it actually made kids more hyperactive.
Avoid this by: Bringing plenty of snacks, games and fun toys along with you the next time your child is on an airplane.