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Tuesday | 1.16.2018
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Ten Tips to Prevent an Accidental Overdose

For a medicine to work for a person—and not against—a person must take the right dose.

Many over-the-counter liquid medicines—such as pain relievers, cold medicine, cough syrups and digestion aids—come with spoons, cups, oral droppers or syringes designed to help consumers measure the proper dose. These “dosage delivery devices” usually have measurement markings on them—such as teaspoons (tsp), tablespoons (tbsp), or milliliters (mL).

But the markings aren’t always clear or consistent with the directions on the medicine’s package. The Food and Drug Administration has received numerous reports of accidental overdoses—especially in young children—that were attributed, in part, to the use of dosage-delivery devices that were unclear or incompatible with the medicine’s labeled directions for use.

On May 4, 2011, the FDA issued a guidance to companies that manufacture, market or distribute over-the-counter liquid medicines. The guidance calls for the companies to provide dosage-delivery devices with markings that are easy to use and understand.

Parents and caregivers can do their part, too, to avoid giving too much or too little of an over-the-counter medicine. Here are 10 tips:

1. Always follow the directions on the Drug Facts label of the medicine. Read the label every time before giving the medicine.

2. Know the “active ingredient” in the medicine. This is what makes the medicine work, and it is always listed at the top of the Drug Facts label. Many medicines used to treat different symptoms have the same active ingredient. So if treating a cold and a headache with two different medicines with the same active ingredient, one could be giving twice the normal dose. If parents are confused, check with a doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

3. Give the right medicine, in the right amount. Medicines with the same brand name can be sold in different strengths, such as infant, children and adult formulas. The dose and directions also vary for children of different ages or weights. Always use the right strength and follow the directions exactly. Never use more medicine than directed unless the doctor says to do so.

4. Talk to a doctor, pharmacist or nurse to find out what mixes well and what doesn’t. Medicines, vitamins, supplements, foods and beverages aren’t always compatible.

5. Use the dosage delivery device that comes with the medicine, such as a dropper or a dosing cup. A different device, or a kitchen spoon, could hold the wrong amount of medicine. And never drink liquid medicine from the bottle.

6. Know the difference between a tablespoon (tbsp) and a teaspoon (tsp). A tablespoon holds three times as much medicine as a teaspoon. On measuring tools, a teaspoon (tsp) is equal to “5 mL.”

7. Know the child’s weight. Dosage amounts for some medicines are based on weight. Never guess how much to give a child or try to figure it out from the adult dose instructions. If a dose is not listed for the child’s weight, call a healthcare professional.

8. Prevent a poison emergency by always using a child-resistant cap. Relock the cap after each use. Be especially careful with any medicines that contain iron; they are the leading cause of poisoning deaths in young children.

9. Store all medicines in a safe place. Some are tasty or colorful and many can be chewed. Children may think they’re candy. Store all medicines and vitamins out of a child’s (and a pet’s) sight and reach. If a child takes too much, call the Poison Center Hotline at 800-222-1222 (open 24 hours a day, seven days a week) or call 911.

10. Check the medicine three times before using.  For any medicine, it is always good practice to first check the outside packaging for cuts, slices or tears. Second, once at home, check the label on the inside package to be sure that the medicine is correct and that the lid and seal aren’t broken. Third, check the color, shape, size and smell. In case of noticing anything unusual, talk with a pharmacist or other healthcare professional before using.


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