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Giving children medicine is an exact science (11-16-99)

As the weather chills, children are more prone to come down with colds and other illnesses, which means giving them medicines. A big question for many parents is how to follow the doctorís orders.

Many childrenís medications call for teaspoon doses, but what is a true teaspoon? "Oftentimes, parents grab teaspoons out of their silverware drawers and use them to give their children medicines, but the teaspoons vary in size," says Robert Nolan, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "One teaspoon may hold six and a half milliliters while another one may hold three and a half; thereís almost a twofold difference between the two teaspoons and thatís enough to affect a childís reaction to the medicine."

When doctors prescribe a teaspoon of medication, they are referring to five milliliters of liquid. The best way to get the exact amount is to buy a syringe. Plastic syringes are inexpensive and take away the guesswork. They also may help parents administer medicines more easily, since some young children cannot swallow a whole teaspoon of liquid at one time.

Many prescriptions call for multiple doses daily. A cough medicine, for example, may need to be given three times a day. But what does three times a day mean? Some parents interpret it as every eight hours while other parents interpret it to mean morning, noon and before bed. "When a physician writes three times a day, thatís during the usual daytime hours, but when a physician writes every four, six or eight hours, that is a more specific time frame that needs to be followed," says Dr. Nolan.

Some childrenís medications come with age or weight charts to help determine dosage. Which guideline should be followed? "Go by the weight, because thatís the best guide to get the most effectiveness out of a medicine," says Dr. Nolan.

Most importantly, parents should ask for clearer instructions if they have any concerns or questions about their childrenís prescriptions, he says.

Contact: Myong Covert