Did you know that more than 70,000 children in the United States go to the emergency room each year because of accidental medication mistakes and poisonings? Kids grow fast. A medication dosage or type that was appropriate a few weeks or months ago may not be now. If you’re confused about any dose of medicine—prescription or not—don’t be afraid to call your doctor or pharmacist. Many medication mistakes are preventable, but only if the proper precautions are taken. Here are 10 tips for preventing medication mistakes:
Mistake #1 — Timing
It’s easy to wonder, “Gee, did I give him his dose at 10 a.m., or was it 11?”
Precaution — Write it down. When your child is taking a medication, jot down the time you give it to him. Writing it down also helps if multiple caregivers are dispensing the meds. Keep a list that each caregiver completes each time a dose is given. Consider an app with dual-parent/caregiver functionality like Baby Bundle to help monitor dosages.
Mistake #2 — Improper dosage for the child’s weight
Precaution — Know your child’s current weight in kilograms. This is vital because doses are given milligrams and milliliters, and weight affects how medications are absorbed into the body. Double-check with the pharmacist when picking up a prescription that the dose is appropriate for your child’s weight.
Mistake #3 — Improper measurements
Precaution — Since most liquid medicines now come with droppers that display milliliters, ask for the medicine dosage amount in milliliters instead of teaspoons. The common assumption that most household kitchen teaspoons are the same as measuring teaspoons. That is both wrong and dangerous! The average teaspoon varies from 2 to 9 milliliters.
Mistake #4 — Incorrect medication
Precaution — Have the doctor read the prescription out loud. In one study, up to 25 percent of errors were from confusion caused by medications having similar names. It’s crucial to be your child’s patient advocate by checking and double-checking to make sure you have the correct medication. Errors also happen from poor penmanship. If possible, ask for a computerized prescription instead of a handwritten one.
Mistake #5 — Food and Drug Interactions
Precaution — Ask about the possibility of drug and food interactions or timing the dose with meals. When your child swallows a pill or takes a liquid medication, it lands in the stomach with whatever else he’s eaten. When getting a prescription, always ask your pediatrician and pharmacist about potential food interactions, and read the package insert.
Mistake #6 — Improper dosage
Precaution — Know the exact amount of medication your child should take and for how long. Make sure both the doctor AND the pharmacist tell you this information.
Mistake #7 — Over-medicating
Precaution — Avoid multi-symptom relief products, which often result in a child taking medication he doesn’t need. Stick with single-action meds.
Mistake #8 — Not shaking well
Precaution — Remember to shake well before using. Many parents don’t shake well, if at all, and that may mean your child gets either a too-weak dose (because the powerful stuff has settled to the bottom) or a too-strong one (because the potent ingredients have risen to the top). Either way, it’s not good.
Mistake #9 — Using expired meds
Precaution — Check the expiration date. In some cases, drugs actually become more potent if they are used past the safe date, but more often they lose their effectiveness. Regardless, if the date is up, get rid of them.
Mistake #10 — Sharing medications
Precaution — Don’t share prescription medications with kids’ relatives or friends. It’s less of a hassle, much cheaper and much safer to make another trip to the doctor’s office than to the emergency room.
Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg (aka “Dr. Jen”) is the co-founder of Baby Bundle, a comprehensive parenting app created to simplify the first 24 months of life with a baby. It is highlighted in the Apple app store as an “Editor’s Choice” and “Best Featured App.” You can find Dr. Jen’s private practice in Manhattan, where she has been practicing for the past 18 years. She is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine; a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics; has appeared on The TODAY show, CNN and Wall Street Journal Online; and has published two parenting books, The Smart Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Kids through Check Ups, Illnesses and Accidents (2010), and Good Kids, Bad Habits (2007). She and her husband live just outside of New York City, where they are raising their three children.