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When medications spell danger

Give your kids the benefits of medicines without the consequences of errors. 

By Celine Blancas -Evidente, M.D.


The dosage of medicines kids take is calculated individually, based on their weight. However, the weight of children can change rapidly and significantly over time, especially in infants. This requires constant recalculations. Children are also more prone to adverse reactions that result from overdosing.

Dr. Grace Lagarejos, licensed pharmacist and practicing pediatrician from St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, says that very young, small, or sick children often do not tolerate medication errors the way adults do. Their organ systems are immature and their kidney, liver, and immune functions are still developing. Children also cannot communicate well enough to tell their parents if they are feeling adverse effects.


Human error

When mistakes happen, sick children do not get better and may even get worse. The effects may range from mild discomfort to life-threatening.

Dr. Lagarejos says that administering the improper dosage may be caused by mistakes due to the similarity in the packaging and labeling of medicines and of drug names. A doctor’s illegible or poor handwriting on a prescription may also lead to misinterpretation of orders. Zeroes and decimal points may also be misread (for example, Phenobarbital 30.0 mg vs. 300 mg), inappropriate abbreviations for drug names misinterpreted, and unclear directions for use done. 


Be involved

Go over your child’s prescription with your doctor.

  • Read back the prescription to your doctor to make sure the handwriting is understood and the abbreviations are correctly interpreted.
  • Ask your doctor to tell you the name of your child’s medicine and explain what it’s for and how it should be taken.
  • Remind your doctor about allergies or special conditions (for example, G6PD deficiency in children).
  • Do not adjust doses based on how sick you think your child is.
  • Do not stop medications without your doctor’s advice even if you think your child is better. Improper antibiotic intake can lead to resistant strains of bacteria in the future.
  • Check the active ingredients of the medicines your child is taking. Do not give two medicines with the same active ingredient, unless your doctor specifically instructs it.
  • Monitor any adverse response to the medicine.


Using the proper dosing device

Parents make more mistakes when giving medicines to infants. Dr. Lagarejos says it is crucial to measure dosages carefully. Use the measuring cup or dropper that comes with the medicine. Do not use dinner spoons to measure prescribed amounts. Read the measurements inscribed on your dosing device. Ask your pharmacist to indicate the exact line on the dosing device you need to fill in order to administer the correct amount.

If using a standard measuring spoon, do not confuse teaspoon with tablespoon. It is ideal to have the measurements in milliliters (5ml=1 tsp vs. 15ml=1 tbsp). A calibrated syringe (without the needle), may be used (especially if the amount of medicine is difficult to measure, like 4mL, 6mL, 8mL, etc.). If using an oral syringe, make sure the transparent caps have been removed. These are potential choking hazards for young children.


Prevent accidental poisoning

Unsupervised ingestions of medicines at home, usually by toddlers and pre-schoolers, are the most common cause of overdosing in children and a frequent reason for visits to the ER. These can be avoided with the following tips:

  • Keep bottles of medicines (adult and pediatric) away from kids. They should be in a locked cabinet, out of reach and not seen.
  • Buy medicines and vitamins with child-resistant caps or packaging. Avoid taking medicines in front of your children. Or, don’t administer medicines to a child while another child is watching. Young children learn by imitation.
  • Remind your kids to never take medicines unless an adult gives it to them.
  • Advise teens and adolescents not to self-medicate.
  • Keep the Poison Control number on hand: (02) 524 1078..

Full article appears in HealthToday's December-January issue. Grab your copy now!

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