Everyone has to take medication at one time or another during their lifetime and generally medication is supplied either in tablet or capsule form. Liquid formulations are generally supplied for the very young or elderly patients who have difficulties with medication. Most people are familiar with the liquid analgesic formulations that can be purchased over the counter for babies and toddlers and the cold and flu remedies that are available for adults, but are not aware that alternative formulations are available for many of the prescription drugs where the patient has difficulty in swallowing capsules or tablets. As with all medication care must be taken to ensure that the drugs prescribed or bought over the counter will not interact with any other drugs that are being taken at the same time. Please make sure that your doctor or pharmacist is aware of all the medication you are taking.
As a rule people do not have a problem swallowing medication when it is in a capsule or tablet formulation. These can vary in size from the very small to some that can seem to be very large. Occasionally a patient can have difficulty swallowing due to a condition known as dysphagia, this may occur at a young age and last a lifetime or it may develop later in life as a result of an illness or condition that affects the ability to swallow. When this occurs it is advisable to speak to the doctor or pharmacist and ask if the medicine prescribed is available in a different pharmaceutical formulation, for example in a liquid which would be easier to swallow. Drugs have to go through an extensive formulation and development process before they can be prescribed for patient use as a liquid formulation, to ensure that the drug is dispersed evenly all through the bottle. Liquid formulations often state that the bottle must be shaken well before use to make sure that the drug has not settled to the bottom and is dispersed evenly.
Liquid formulations have to be designed slightly differently to tablets for the patient to get the correct dosage without having to take large volumes of liquid and it has to include something to mask the drug which often is very bitter and bad tasting. Generally the average dosage is kept to 5 millilitres for children though adults will generally have to take a larger dose. The medication is supplied in a syrup formulation a mixture or a solution and contains sweeteners and flavourings to mask the taste of the drug, thicker fluids are often used as they are less likely to be spilled and inhaled by mistake. It may also contain other substances to keep the drug suspended in the liquid and make sure that it works correctly.
Liquid medication is supplied with a special measuring spoon to make sure that the correct dosage is given each time. A recent study found that when the spoon supplied was not used the size of the dose given could vary considerably with the teaspoon used as teaspoons are not standard sizes. If you find it difficult to use the spoon provided ask the pharmacist for a medicine cup or an oral syringe so that the dose can be measured more accurately. There are some basic points to follow when using liquid medicines:
1. Make sure that you know the dose you have to take,
2. Measure the dose carefully into the spoon, cup or syringe
3. Once the dose has been taken, wash and dry the spoon, cup or syringe so it is ready when the next dose is due.
4. Make sure that the bottle is stored correctly some medicines such as antibiotics may need to be kept in the refrigerator.
For medication that needs to be taken on a long term basis a medicine dispenser may be the answer. These are pumps that fit into the medicine bottle and are designed to deliver a fixed amount with each pump. These will make it easier particularly at night when the lighting is not so good or where there are dexterity or sight problems, to deliver a more accurate amount of the liquid drug when it is needed. Please discuss any problems with your doctor or pharmacist.
It is important that medication is stored correctly and safely and that any instructions regarding dosage and timings are followed carefully and that any old or left over medication is discarded, by taking it to a pharmacy to be disposed of correctly.