Safely Sidestep Medication Mishaps
When is a teaspoon not really a teaspoon? When it comes to pouring out doses of liquid medications like cough and cold syrups, you may want to pass on the kitchen spoon in favor of a more exact measuring device.
According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, participants poured 8 percent less medicine than prescribed into a medium-sized spoon and 12 percent too much into a large spoon. The tests were conducted in a well-lit room during the day and not when the probability for error is greatest--in the middle of the night during a rush to calm a crying child.
Heidi Handler, MD, a family practitioner on staff at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, said people often reach for the closest spoon in the drawer to measure liquid medications. However, there is no standard kitchen spoon, and most likely the incorrect dosage will be dispensed.
"Giving too little of the prescribed dose can make the medicine ineffective," said Dr. Handler. "Ingesting more than the prescribed dose of a medicine, whether it's prescribed or over-the-counter (OTC), can be harmful and may require immediate medical attention."
Dr. Handler recommends patients use a measuring cap, dropper or a special dosing spoon, often distributed free by the pharmacy.
"People also need to be aware of potentially dangerous drug interactions, such as with other medications or alcohol," she said. "Carefully read the label directions and the information distributed by your pharmacist."
Sometimes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration changes prescribing guidelines or recalls or issues warnings about drugs. It's important to investigate any potential safety issues or prescribing changes for your medication. But don't make decisions about drugs--such as reducing your dosage or not taking the medicine--on your own. First, contact your doctor, Dr. Handler said.
If you're doing your own research first, these resources may help:
- The Index to Drug-Specific Information lists drugs that have been the subject of a possible safety problem or other review. Visit www.fda.gov/drugs and scroll down to the "Drug Safety" section. Click on the "A-Z Index" and search for drugs by name.
- Recalls.gov is a government site that provides recall information for all kinds of products. Select the "Medicine" tab for news on specific drugs.
- MedWatch is a Web site that provides timely drug safety information. It also includes information about medical devices, dietary supplements and more. Find up-to-date safety alerts and recall information at www.fda.gov/safety/medwatch. You can also sign up to have MedWatch alerts e-mailed to you.
Maintaining Your Meds
Dr. Handler advises patients to maintain a current list of medications and to ask their doctor or pharmacist about possible harmful interactions.
Proper storage of medication also is key to maintaining their effectiveness and avoiding dosage dangers. Don't keep prescription and OTC drugs in bathroom or kitchen cabinets, where heat and high humidity can break down the ingredients in tablets and capsules. Instead, try a cool, dry cabinet, box or closet in your bedroom. Make sure the drugs are out of the reach of children.
Also, get rid of pills that have changed color, consistency or smell, stick together, are cracked or chipped, or are beyond their expiration date, she said.
Manage Your Medications
Be an active part of your healthcare team. Knowing all your medications and when you take them, including over-the-counter drugs, herbs and vitamins, are important for discussions with your doctor. Call 1-888-LOURDES (568- 7337) today to receive our FREE medication recorder pocket pal.
Heidi Handler, MD Do you want to know more about Dr. Handler or another Lourdes expert? Call 1-888-LOURDES (568-7337) or visit the Lourdes Health System Web site at www.lourdesnet.org and click on "Find a Physician."