Medication use is a tricky thing -- too little of it and it has no effect on the medical condition; too much of it and it becomes a poison. Medication safety is especially important among children because the method of usage, dose, amount and frequency of administration of a medication may be different from the adult’s.
Nonetheless, medication administration errors made by caregivers of the children are concerning -- widely ranged from 1.9% to 33% globally. Each year in the United States, thousands of children are treated in emergency departments after finding and ingesting medicine, or after accidentally being given the wrong amount.
A qualitative study on chronically-ill children’s medication safety in Malaysia found that both intentional and unintentional medication errors have been made by caregivers. Reasons for unintentional errors were mainly due to unclear instructions and difficulty in remembering the time for medication administration, while intentional errors were attributable to a busy working life and a negative belief about medication among the caregivers.
Your child is unwell and you are extremely worried, so you bring him or her to see a doctor immediately. After a 10-minutes physical examination and check-up, your doctor told you that it is not a big deal and proceeded to prescribe medications to your child. Phew, that was a hell of a ride, you thought. Now, your job is not done yet, as you need to make sure you have gathered all the necessary information on your child’s medications.
Here are some questions you may ask your doctor or pharmacist regarding your child’s prescription:
What is the name of the medicine?
What is it for?
How much and how often does my child need it?
How long does my child need to take it?
What are its possible side effects?
What if my child misses a dose?
Will there be problems if my child is taking other medicines?
How long does it take to give effect?
These questions would allow you to get the information you need so that in case any medication issue arises in your child, you are better prepared to tackle them.
Dosing is the feeding of medications in small quantities. It is important for both the healthcare professional and the caregiver to communicate properly on the unit of measurement. Confusion about units of measurement can lead to grave dosing errors. For example, giving a child 5 teaspoons (tsp) instead of his/her prescribed dose of 5 milliliters (mL) would result in giving five times more than the prescribed dose!
With so many variations of the sizes of our household spoons, feeding your children with any spoon you find randomly in the kitchen can lead to dosing errors. Therefore, it is crucial for caregivers to always use the dosing device that comes with your children’s medicine to make sure that they get the right amount. There are also various oral syringes available that allow you to feed the medication at a higher precision.
All in all, to ensure safe dosing:
Know the Dose: Read all the information on the medicine label and follow the directions. Do not give a child medicine more often or in greater amounts than is stated on the package.
Measure the Right Amount: Always measure your child’s dose using the dosing device (oral syringe or dosing cup) that comes with the medicine.
Use the Right Tool: If you do not have a dosing device, ask your pharmacist for one. Do not use household spoons to give medicines to children.
Get Questions Answered: If you do not understand the instructions on the label, or how to use the dosing device, talk to your pharmacist or doctor before giving the medicine. It’s better that you do not Google your way out of this as the information you found online may not always be accurate.
Very importantly, do not give the medications of one child to another, even if you think they may have the same medical condition! The child should always take the medication prescribed to him or her by a doctor.
After ensuring that your children get the right amount of medicine, it’s just as important to make sure that the medicine is immediately returned to a safe storage location.
Five simple tips to safe storage at home and on-the-go:
Lock the Safety Cap: Always relock the cap on a medicine bottle. If the bottle has a locking cap that turns, twist it until you hear the click or cannot twist anymore.
Put Medications Away: After locking the safety cap, it’s important to always put medicines back in their safe storage location. Curious children act fast, so never leave medicine out on a kitchen counter or at a sick child’s bedside, even if you have to give it again in a few hours.
Choose a Safe Spot: Find the safest place to keep your medicines. The location should be up and away and out of the sight and reach of young children.
Remind Guests: Ask family members, houseguests, and other visitors to keep purses, bags, or coats that have medicine in them up and away and out of sight when they are in your home.
While Traveling: While staying with family or friends or at a hotel, find a safe storage place that is out of sight and reach of young children, like a high cabinet. If you’re in a hotel room, you may use the passcode-protected room safe for safe storage.
You should take the child to the nearest hospital immediately, and bring along a sample of the poison so that the healthcare professional can identify the root cause of poisoning and get down to treatment as soon as possible.
For enquiries related to medication overdose and other poisoning, you can call the National Poison Centre at 04-6570099. Tip: keep the phone number on a visible place such as the fridge door so that it is accessible in an emergency.
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