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Is a regular teaspoon OK for a child's medicine dose?

Parents should use the syringe or the dedicated

Parents should use the syringe or the dedicated cup when giving children medicine. Credit: iStock

Q. If a liquid medicine dosage is one teaspoon, or 5 milliliters, can parents just use a regular teaspoon to measure a dose for a child?

A. No, says Dr. Ian Paul, professor of pediatrics at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Parents should step away from the silverware drawer when it comes to administering medication.

Household teaspoons are not all uniform in size, says Paul, who is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs and the lead author of an Academy policy statement on the subject of dosing that was issued earlier this month. Even a measuring spoon used for baking, for instance, may not allow for an accurate dose -- so using those are a no-no as well, Paul says.

Paul's committee is trying to educate parents to use syringes or the designated cup that comes with liquid medicine for all dosing. If the pharmacist doesn't include a syringe when parents pick up a prescription, parents should ask for one, he says. The syringe or cup should have dosing increments using the metric system so that doses can by administered in milliliters, he says. "It allows for a lot more precise dosing and consistent dosing," Paul says. "This is part of a movement across health care to eliminate non-metric units."

Using different-sized teaspoons -- or accidentally grabbing a tablespoon -- can cause serious overdose issues, Paul says. For instance, a tablespoon is actually three teaspoons, and parents could unintentionally be administering three times the prescribed amount. "If you repeatedly give three times a dose for a couple of days, you could cause liver damage," he says.

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