When you have to dose out a teaspoon of medicine, it's tempting to reach for a teaspoon. Makes sense, right? But kitchen spoons are different sizes, and using silverware to measure medications means you may be giving the wrong dose.
The unit called a teaspoon is equal to 5 milliliters. A tablespoon is three times bigger: 15 milliliters. If you have a set of labelled measuring spoons, they will give you the right amount. But the spoons you eat your cereal and soup with can be any size at all; a tea spoon doesn't necessarily hold a teaspoonful.
In a study published in Pediatrics, parents were asked to demonstrate how they measured out liquid medicine for their child's recent prescription. Even though it seems like a simple task, nearly 40% made some kind of error resulting in them giving the wrong dose. Among the offenders: Choosing a kitchen spoon instead of a measuring tool.
Another common problem was confusing teaspoon and tablespoon units, resulting in a dose that was either three times too big or too small. The researchers recommended that measurements be given in metric instead. Parents who thought of the medicine in milliliters were more likely to pick a real measuring tool, and more likely to get the dose right.
At most pharmacies, you can ask for a free dosing cup, syringe, or measuring spoon when you pick up liquid medications. Some over-the-counter meds come with their own. If you're in a pinch, use the same measuring spoons you keep for measuring, say, baking powder (you do use proper measuring spoons for that, right?) and keep the tea spoons for stirring tea.
Unit of Measurement Used and Parent Medication Dosing Errors [Pediatrics] Photo by Liz West.