The importance of accurate dosing

How many of us can admit to swigging cough mixture directly from the bottle? Or using a kitchen spoon to measure it out?

With winter and cold and flu germs in full swing1, many of us will be reaching for an over the counter (OTC) cough medicine, especially as a cough is one of the most common symptoms for which patients seek medical attention2.

Knowing how to get the correct dose is vital. This is because all medication, including OTC products contain pharmaceutical ingredients, and correct dosages are calculated based on a variety of factors to achieve the best results and avoid overdosing 3-5.

Some of us might be alarmed to read that an average sip of liquid can be as much as 14ml6, which means that when medication is sipped directly from the bottle, a patient can be overdosing. Similarly, using kitchen spoons of varying sizes can also lead to dosing errors7.

While the difference of a few millilitres of cough medicine can seem minimal, these types of overdosing errors are likely to accumulate, especially when we are tired and sick and dosing ourselves every four to eight hours for several days7.

Besides incorrect dosing, many people don’t take into account whether they have a dry or wet cough, and whether they are taking the correct cough mixture to treat their specific symptoms. In fact, many people have trouble differentiating between these two types of coughs and end up buying and using the incorrect cough mixtures, which means that their cough remains untreated for longer than necessary8.

Simply put, a dry cough is when there is no phlegm or mucus, often a barking type of cough or itchy feeling in the throat which causes you to cough. A wet cough is more of a chesty cough where phlegm or mucus is expelled out8.

For those with a wet cough, a cough medicine containing scheduled ingredients such as a bronchodilator and mucolytic  can help relieve wet cough symptoms and for those with a dry cough, a cough suppressant can relieve dry cough symptoms, and when combined with a nasal decongestant , congestion can also be relieved9,10.

Here are 7 helpful tips to make sure you take cough medication correctly and safely:

1.       Make sure that the medication you choose treats only the symptoms that you have and avoid taking medications that you do not need. Furthermore, remember that the OTC medication that you use can interact with other medicines, so always talk to your pharmacist about what prescription and other OTC products you may be taking5.

2.       Use the medications exactly as directed by your healthcare provider, including at the right times and for the full length of your prescribed treatment. NOTE: If a product says two/three/four times daily this means 24 hour day, not a waking day12.

3.       Follow the label instructions carefully. Some medications need to be taken with food; others should be taken on an empty stomach12.

4.       Try to take your medications at the same time every day. Don’t panic if you miss a dose of your medication. Take it as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and return to your regular medication schedule. Do not take two doses to make up for the dose you missed12.

5.       Scheduled medicine shouldn’t be used by anyone except the person who it has been prescribed or dispensed for.

Take special care with children3

If you give cough and cold medicines to children, follow the label directions EXACTLY and use only as directed3

·         Follow dosing instructions for your child’s age and weight

·         Measure doses with the correct measuring cup, spoon, or syringe. Do not use ordinary household spoons and cups

·         If you plan to use more than one medicine, compare labels carefully. Speak to your pharmacist or healthcare professional about the other medications so that they can review and assess to make sure that the two medications do not pose any drug-drug interactions

·         After you administer each dose, replace the child-resistant closure. Lock the medicine up high, where children can’t see it or reach it

Remember that for adults and children alike, it is safer and much more effective to use a measuring cap, dosing spoon, measuring dropper, or dosing syringe to dispense liquid medicine than to assume the amount poured into a kitchen or other spoon is accurate7. And never sip directly from the bottle.

For more information about different types of coughs and treatments, go to

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