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A spoonful of medicine may be too much – or not enough

January 4, 2010 |  9:05 pm

Spoonful2 "Heaping" teaspoon or "level"? That's the nail-biting dilemma that usually confronts amateur boulangeries as they timidly mix baking soda or salt into their cake batter.

In medicine, though, the unreliability of your average spoon – and by average spoon, we mean a tool more commonly used to stir sugar into coffee – can create far more serious problems.

In a study in the Jan. 5 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers asked student patients at the Cornell University health clinic to pour out 5 milliliters of cold medicine into different-sized kitchen spoons. The researchers found that participants expressed confidence in their measuring abilities, and yet "underdosed by 8.4% when using the medium-sized spoon and overdosed by 11.6% when using the larger spoon." 
That may sound minimal, but consider someone who's making that same mistake three to five times a day for a seven-day regimen. That can add up. Overdosing can mean nasty and troublesome side effects. Underdosing – on an antibiotic, for example – can lead to drug-resistant bacteria, ultimately rendering the medication ineffective.

The moral of the story? Use a proper device – a measuring cap, a syringe or a dosing spoon – to make that medicine go down.

Here’s the full news release from Cornell University. And parents, before you pour any liquid into your kid’s spoon (accurate or not), make sure you have the proper dose for your child’s age and weight. Here’s an easy Tylenol calculator.

One last note to angst-filled bakers: Take the uncertainty out of life and invest in a measuring spoon set. This, incidentally, will also come in handy for medication if you can’t find your dosing spoon (which you will obviously have procured, having read this post).

-- Amina Khan

Photo credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (2)

"One last note to angst-filled bakers: Take the uncertainty out of life and invest in a measuring spoon set. "

Yes, but a scale is even better.

This is really funny, especially since most common drugs are administered in finite-size increments (say, 250, 500, or 750mg for antibiotics).
If your weight falls halfway between two doses, your dose may easily be 30% off from optimum. -8.4 or +11.6% of liquid dose appears much more precise.

Amina, find yourself a better subject.


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