Everyday Toxicology – Dose & Dose-Rate

As winter colds make the rounds and more people are taking medications, let’s take a moment to discuss dosage, dose-rates, and why it’s essential to take medications as directed to receive the optimal benefits.

What is a dose?

A dose is a measured quantity typically of a medicine or a nutrient. Doses are measured in units, these units can be pre-measured pills, or they can be liquid medications measured in milliliters, teaspoons, and/or tablespoons. For example, a cough medication may require a 10 mL dose; another medication may require someone to take Subscribe for weekly updates_ go.msu.edu/cris-connectone pill. 
Dosages of medication and/or nutrients are developed based on people’s body weight. Manufacturers will look at several variables, including a typical person’s body weight, the amount entering the body (absorption capacity), the movement of the drug throughout the body (distribution), the breakdown of the medication throughout the body (metabolism), and how quickly the body eliminates the medication (elimination rates), to determine the appropriate amount of active and inactive ingredients to add to a drug. 

What is dose-rate?

The dose-rate is the frequency someone takes a dose of a medication or nutrient. For example, if you are taking a medication for a bacterial infection, you may be required to take one dose of the medication two times a day, approximately 12 hours between each dose for five days.
Using our anti-biotic example, taking the prescription drug at the optimal dose-rate ensures the amount of the active ingredients in the body remains consistent with minimal side-effects. If you were to stop taking the medication as prescribed before completing the recommended duration, the bacterial infection may not resolve and could progress. On the other hand, if you were to take two doses of the medication at once rather than breaking it up between 12 hours, you would consume too much of the anti-biotic, which could cause harm. 
The dose-rate is not always short in duration. For example, if you are receiving a series of vaccinations, the vaccination dose-rate may be days, weeks, or months to build antibodies to the appropriate level. 
The dose and dose-rates are established by many clinical studies to ensure medications will work while minimizing potential harm. It’s important to take all medications as advised by a credentialed medical professional because they will know and make recommendations for your specific medical situation. 

How do you measure a dose accurately?

Since doses of medication come in different forms, you will want to read the directions and/or talk with a pharmacist to ensure you’re measuring a dose correctly. 
If the medication is liquid, you should use an official measuring instrument such as a dosing cup, dosing spoon, or an oral syringe; these are available at all pharmacies. Never use household spoon such as flatware because they are not uniform size, and you may not deliver the correct dosage. It’s also not advised to use baking measuring tools as they may be easy to spill, or it may be hard to administer the medication from one of these tools effectively. 

dose tools

When taking medication in pill form, always take the recommended number of pills at the correct dose-rate. For example, if it’s recommended that you take one pill twice a day for five days, you should follow the directions as noted and not deviate from the schedule. It helps to set alarms to take the medication and then to write down when you’ve taken each dose to ensure efficacy.
If taking an over the counter medication, read the directions carefully, and do not exceed the maximum daily amount. It’s especially important to check the maximum daily amount of all the medicines taken together. For example, a cold medication may contain acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), if you take the cold medication and then take additional acetaminophen, you could unknowingly exceed your daily limit and cause adverse health impacts. Speak with a pharmacist before combining over the counter medications to ensure safe use. 

What happens if I over-dose myself or another? 

Over-dosage can be life-threatening. If you suspect you or someone you know has taken a life-threatening overdose of medication, contact emergency services immediately. 
If it’s a less serious matter, you can contact your local pharmacist or your poison control center

What happens if you skip a dose or take an extra dose?

Your course of action depends on the recommended dose, dose-rate, and the type of medication or nutrient recommended to you. 
If a doctor prescribed it, call the doctor or pharmacist and ask how to proceed safely. 
If it’s an over the counter medication, contact your doctor, pharmacist, or the poison control center for next steps. 

Does it matter if I stop taking medications as prescribed?

Yes, it’s essential to take all prescribed medications as recommended unless you’ve contacted your doctor and/or pharmacist in advance.


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