Medical doctors are trained to treat illness, injury and disease with medication, surgery and/or hospitalization - but they rarely have time to give detailed self-care advice.

Nurses are usually the best people to offer this type of advice and help patients avoid dangerous medical mistakes.

Common mistakes…

  • Relying on an ear thermometer. Ear thermometers use an infrared beam to gauge the temperature of the eardrum. They are accurate when trained nurses use them on unconscious patients, who aren't moving. Getting an accurate reading on a conscious patient, who is almost certain to move slightly, is less likely. When a patient moves, the infrared beam may shift off the eardrum, making the reading unreliable.

Rectal thermometers are still the gold standard for getting an accurate temperature reading. Digital oral thermometers also are reliable. But, according to a new study conducted at the University of Virginia Health System, you should not eat or drink anything for 15 to 25 minutes before taking the reading.

Forehead thermometers gauge the temperature in the temporal artery which supplies blood to the temple and scalp, and are considered less reliable because proper placement and use can be tricky. Follow label instructions carefully.

  • Using silverware to measure liquid medicines. Daily doses of certain medications - for example, the heart drug digoxin (Lanoxin) and anticonvulsant drugs, *ch as phenytoin (Dilantin)-must be measured precisely because there is a narrow range between optimal and toxic doses. Liquid drug doses are prescribed in milliliters but often are translated into teaspoons and tablespoons for convenience. However, the size of silverware teaspoons and tablespoons varies widely.

Ask your health-care provider to skip this translation. Measure out your prescribed dose in milliliters in a needleless syringe or a dosing spoon (a plastic device with a spoon on one end and measurements along the handle).

Check with your health-care provider for a needleless syringe. Or buy a dosing spoon, available at a drugstore for about $2. If you're not sure how to use these devices, ask a pharmacist or nurse for a demonstration.

  • Storing medicine in the bathroom medicine cabinet. The humidity that commonly develops in a bathroom with a shower or bath- tub increases the chances that your prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs will break down quickly, losing their efficacy and possibly causing unwanted side effects, such as stomach upset or skin rash.

A box, placed in a linen closet near the bath- room, is the best place for your drugs because it keeps the medication cool and dry. (If you have children in your home, place the box on the top shelf, where it is out of reach.)

  • Taking pain relievers that contain caffeine instead of getting it from coffee.  The OTC pain reliever Excedrin contains acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine. Anacin, another OTC pain reliever, contains buffered aspirin and caffeine. These drugs cost up to three times more than plain aspirin or acetaminophen.

Caffeine is added because aspirin and acetaminophen are absorbed up to 40% faster when taken with caffeine. However a cup of caffeinated coffee contains about 735 mg of caffeine compared with 64 mg to 130 mg per dose of pain reliever-and works just as well. Black tea, which contains 40 mg to 70 mg of caffeine per cup, also can be used.

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