Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medicines

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Over-The-Counter Medicines

Measuring Liquid Medicines Safely

Over-the-counter (OTC) liquid medicines can be found in practically every household. These are sometimes referred to as elixirs, syrups, solutions, mixtures, or drops. Liquid medicines are commonly used for children or adults who have difficulty swallowing tablets or capsules. In some cases, the medicine itself is absorbed better and faster in a liquid form, so even people who do not have difficulty swallowing tablets or capsules may use liquid medicines.

Surprisingly, there’s not a standard way to state the dose or measure OTC liquid medicines. Both the directions for use and the markings on a dosing syringe, cup, spoon, or dropper may include one or more of these volume measurements:

Household measurements, such as teaspoon (tsp) or tablespoon (tbsp)

Metric measurements, such as milliliter (mL) or cubic centimeter (cc)

Apothecary measurements, such as drams (dr or ʒ) or ounces (oz or ℥)

Other measurements, such as drops (gtts) or dropperfuls

If these volume measurements are confused with each other, too much or too little of the medicine can be given. Confusion can occur, for example, if the dosing directions recommend 1 teaspoon (tsp) of medicine, but the dosing cup has markings on it for teaspoon (tsp), tablespoon (tbsp), milliliters (mL), and ounces (oz). Or, the dose in milligrams (mg) might be confused as the volume of medicine to measure in a dosing cup. Other mistakes have been reported when measuring liquid medicines with household measuring devices like a kitchen teaspoon (tsp) or tablespoon (tbsp). A typical household teaspoon can hold between 3 and 7 milliliters (mL). But the real dose of a teaspoon of medicine is 5 milliliters (mL)—3 mL would not be enough medicine and 7 mL would be too much medicine.

If you are taking liquid medicines or giving them to a child or elderly adult, click here to learn about important tips to help avoid mistakes.