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Poor Labeling: Kids More Likely to OD on Medicine

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: It's that time of year -- cold and flu season. Even though over-the-counter cold medications are now verboten for children under 6 (per the 2007 FDA recommendation), all parents try to help their kids get past whatever symptoms are bothering them. According to WebMD, more than half of American kids take at least one medication per week, and more than half of those medications are over-the-counter. (I found this statistic surprising, even troubling. Do you?) But giving medicine

to kids is tricky, and a recent report suggests that it's made trickier by poor labeling and product design when it comes to dosing.

Among the problems cited by the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were products that lacked any dosing measurement device at all (whether cup, spoon or syringe), those whose measuring devices included units inconsistent with the rest of the packaging (like a bottle with doses in teaspoons and a cup marked only with milliliters), and those that used nonstandard abbreviations for measurements. The report went on to recommend that the FDA speed up enforcement of voluntary standards already set.

Another group, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, has asked that manufacturers adopt a standard dosing measurement by using milliliters only. Apparently, many parents don't know the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, which is bad when you're trying to bake a batch of cookies but worse when your 2-year-old needs Tylenol (a tablespoon is fully three times a teaspoon, for what it's worth). Not all dosing problems are caused by the manufacturers, of course -- far too many moms and dads still use household cutlery, rather than a measuring spoon, to "measure" a teaspoon. To return to the baking analogy, isn't your child's health and safety at least as important as getting the right amount of vanilla in your cake?

It's always upsetting when your child needs medication of any kind, so experts recommend that you acquaint yourself with the dosing instructions when you buy an over-the-counter medication, or check with the pharmacist when filling a prescription. Any questions about the proper dosage should be brought up with your pediatrician, pharmacist or poison control, in the case of a potential overdose. 


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