How to Prevent Dosing Mistakes

By Margaret M. Burke, Pharm.D., BCPPS

It can be distressing to care for a sick child. As parents or caregivers, you just want to make the child feel better. The last thing you would ever intend to do is give a wrong dose of medicine, especially if that wrong dose might cause harm. Yet giving a wrong dose happens regularly.

Here are a few things you can do to prevent giving a wrong dose of medicine to a child you care for.

Know the Dose

Doses can be expressed in different ways depending on the medicine. Some common ways include:

Unit of Measurement Abbreviation
Milligram mg
Gram g
Unit or International Unit U or IU*

*Not recommended since these letters can be mistaken for a 0 or 10, especially if handwritten

Liquid medicine doses can be expressed two ways, the units of measure listed above or by the volume of the liquid to be given. Volumes may be listed in milliliters, abbreviated mL, or measures such as a teaspoon, abbreviated tsp. It is very important that you know the number of milligrams or grams to be given AND the volume to be measured. Some medicines are available in more than one concentration so you may make a mistake if you only know the volume to give.

Warning: A TABLEspoon is different than a TEAspoon! A tablespoon is 3 times the volume of a teaspoon.

1 teaspoon = approximately 5 mL
1 tablespoon = approximately 15 mL

For new prescription medicines ask the prescriber what dose he or she is ordering and how the medicine comes. Confirm this information with your pharmacist, look at the medicine label, and ask any questions before you leave the pharmacy.

For nonprescription medicines, often called over-the-counter or OTC medicines, read the package and ask the pharmacist any questions before you leave the pharmacy.

Measuring Liquid Medicines

If a measuring device like a dropper, oral syringe, or cup comes in the medicine packaging, use it to measure doses for that medicine only. Do not use measuring devices from other medicines.

If a measuring device does not come with the medicine, ask your pharmacist if they can provide an oral syringe or help you select an appropriate measuring device from the store shelf.

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