Your Health

A Spoonful Of Medicine Can Lead To Dosage Errors

It's the middle of the night, and you wake yourself up coughing. You jump out of bed, grab a bottle of medicine in the bathroom and then the first spoon you can find in a kitchen drawer.

Spoons. i i

hide captionThe dotted line indicates the right dose. The shaded area shows the typical mistake.

Annals of Internal Medicine
Spoons.

The dotted line indicates the right dose. The shaded area shows the typical mistake.

Annals of Internal Medicine

Now, how good a job will you do getting the dose right? A report in the latest Annals of Internal Medicine might give you pause.

Nearly 200 college students were given the task of pouring a 5 milliliter dose of medicine, the standard volume of medicine in an ideal teaspoon, into three spoons. The first was a teaspoon, which they filled as a warm-up. The other spoons were just the sorts that dominate our kitchen—a medium-sized tablespoon and a slightly bigger one than that.

Size mattered. On average, the college kids came up about 8 percent short when using a medium-sized spoon and went overboard by 12 percent when using the larger spoon, the researchers found. Yet the kids, who weren't told the results, were quite confident they had been accurate in their work.

While the errors may seem minor, the researchers say they could add up over many days taking a medicine, leading to either systematic overdosing or underdosing, depending on the spoon.

Then there's the problem that you spoons may not be the size you think. Common teaspoons can hold from 2 to 10 milliliters of liquid.

The best solution to all of this may be to skip spoons for well-marked droppers or syringes. That seems a better bet, the spoon researchers write, "than to assume that [patients] can rely on their pouring experience and estimation ability with kitchen spoons."

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