Among those medicines that included a measuring device, about 81.1 percent had superfluous markings that weren't relevant to the prescribed dose and nearly 90 percent labeled the device with different units than the instructions contained. The study found 98.6 percent of all products examined contained at least one inconsistency between the labeled directions and the accompanying device.
These issues represent a disconnect between ensuring proper health care in the doctor's office and in the home, said Dr. Darren DeWalt, associate professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and author of an accompanying editorial for the study.
"Most health care is performed by people for themselves. We [as doctors] will make recommendations, but it really is up to the patient at the end of the day to decide how they're going to implement this in their lives," he said.
In his editorial, DeWalk argues that the medical community should focus on a better "hand off" to patients once they leave the doctor's office, whether they are caring for themselves or their loved ones.
After evaluating the misleading aspects of various medication packaging, researchers suggested more stringent changes than those suggested by the FDA and CHPA be made in the future efforts to decrease accidental over- or under-dosing in children.
"One of our concerns is that because so many products are implicated, a voluntary guideline may not be a strong enough step," Yin said. "It is great that both the CHPA and the FDA recognize that these are important issues, but I am not sure that the voluntary guidelines will be able to fix such a big problem. The FDA may need to set official standards and regulate these products to ensure compliance."
Researchers recommended that a standardized measuring device be used and included in all non-prescription liquid medications and that dosing units should be standardized across all products.
One of the most confusing aspects of medicine prescriptions can be the use of terms that have multiple meanings in common parlance, such as teaspoon and tablespoon. While each of these measurements has a standardized volume, many caretakers will reach for flatware spoons that provide a non-standard amount of medication.
In addition, packing needs to be revised to be consistent with the markings made on the measuring device.
In the meantime, Yin suggested that parents be extra cautious: "Parents should pay careful attention to the medication labels and devices when they give over-the-counter products to children. They need to make sure that they are looking at the label and checking whether the units of measurement match up on the device. Especially in the case of teaspoon and tablespoon measurements, it can be easy to get confused and parents need to be extra cautious whenever these units are used."
Parents also "should not be hesitant to reach out to their doctors or to the pharmacist when they have questions, because it is quite confusing," she said.
ABC News' Kristina Collins contributed on this report.