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Liquid medication administration

If the medicine comes in suspension form, shake well before using.

DO NOT use flatware spoons used for eating for giving medicine. They are not all the same size. For example, a flatware teaspoon could be as small as one half teaspoon (2.5 mL) or as large as 2 teaspoons (10 mL).

Measuring spoons used for cooking are accurate, but they spill easily.

Oral syringes have some advantages for giving liquid medicines.

  • They are accurate.
  • They are easy to use.
  • You can take a capped syringe containing a dose of medicine to your child's daycare or school.

There can be problems with oral syringes, however. The FDA has had reports of young children choking on syringe caps. To be safe, remove the cap before you use an oral syringe. Throw it away if you do not need it for future use. If you need it, keep it out of reach of infants and small children.

Dosing cups are also a handy way to give liquid medicines. However, dosing errors have occurred with them. Always check to make sure the units (teaspoon, tablespoon, mL, or cc) on the cup or syringe match the units of the dose you want to give.

Liquid medicines often do not taste good, but many flavors are now available and can be added to any liquid medicine. Ask your pharmacist.

Unit conversions

  • 1 mL = 1 cc
  • 2.5 mL = 1/2 teaspoon
  • 5 mL = 1 teaspoon
  • 15 mL = 1 tablespoon
  • 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon

References

American Academy of Family Physicians website. How to give your child medicine. familydoctor.org/how-to-give-your-child-medicine/. Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed October 16, 2019.

Sandritter TL, Jones BL, Kearns GL. Principles of drug therapy. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 73.

Yin HS, Parker RM, Sanders LM, et al. Liquid medication errors and dosing tools: a randomized controlled experiment. Pediatrics. 2016;138(4):e20160357. PMID: 27621414 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27621414/.

Review Date 10/2/2019

Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.