A new study says the medicine cups that come with children’s medications are misleading and potentially dangerous.
By Stephanie Watson
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dragged myself into my child’s bedroom, bleary-eyed at 1 a.m., and gone digging through the medicine cabinet to find something—anything—to soothe his fever, stuffy nose, or cough so that he—and I—could get back to bed.
Squinting at those miniscule lines on the medicine cup, how many parents have similarly pondered, “Is this line one tablespoon–or two? Or is that a teaspoon? What the heck does ML stand for? How much does he weigh again?”
Now we have a concrete reason for our medicine cup mishaps. According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the pharmaceutical companies that make children’s medicines aren’t doing us parents any favors when they provide those tiny measuring cups. In fact, the study found that the measuring devices included with nearly every popular children’s cough/cold, stomachache, allergy, and pain relieving medicine are confusing, inconsistent, and bear little resemblance to the dosing instructions printed on the box.
About a quarter of the cups in the study were missing measurement markings. More than 80 percent had extra markings. In the middle of the night when parents can barely see and coordinate their brain waves enough to open up a childproof bottle, how can they be expected to decipher rows of teeny tiny lines, half of which mean absolutely nothing?
It doesn’t help that some of the measurements they use were never covered in any of my elementary school classes. Cubic centimeters? Drams? Hang on. Let me just refer to the six-volume medical textbook I keep next to the toilet.
During one of these early-morning adventures in medicine, you might have wondered, “Does it really matter if I give my child an extra ounce of cold medicine?” Once in a while, that extra ounce might not make a big difference. But if you give your child a double dose of Tylenol four or five days in a row, he could end up with liver damage. That’s a pretty big deal.
An editorial that ran along with the JAMA study calls for drug companies to change the cups in kids’ medicines to include only the doses listed on the box. That would make it at least a little easier on us weary parents.
In the meantime, here’s my advice: When you buy a box of children’s medicine, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the dose and compare it to the lines on the little cup. Also keep track of your child’s weight so you know how much to give. If you’re prepared ahead of time, you won’t have to exercise as much brainpower during one of those middle- of-the-night sick calls.
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