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What Are the Different Liquid Dosage Forms?

By Megan Shoop
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Medication comes in three basic forms: solid, semi-solid, and liquid. Solids and semi-solids typically include medicines administered as tablets, capsules, pills, and chews. Liquid dosage forms, given orally, deliver medication to the body the fastest because they move so quickly through the system. They are also the most common form of children’s medications. The three forms are syrups, elixirs, and drops.

Syrups are one of the most common liquid dosage forms. These thick, glutinous medicines sit longer on infected areas, allowing them to soothe infections in the mouth or throat as they travel to the stomach. The consistency also keeps these forms from digesting too quickly, which means the patient usually feels the effects of the medicine over a longer period of time.

Two kinds of syrups exist — commercial medications and homemade herbal remedies. Commercial syrups are usually a combination of dyes, artificial flavorings, and white sugar or corn syrup. In commercial preparations, the syrup is not part of the medication. Herbal remedies often use a mixture of honey simmered together with herbs. Honey is antibacterial, so the syrup in home remedies is sometimes medicinal.

Elixirs are the second of the liquid dosage forms. This kind of medication, unlike syrups, is thin and watery. Food-safe ethanol and water are generally mixed with medicine to help get it into the system quickly. Children’s elixirs often contain sugar, fruity flavorings, and food dyes to make these liquid dosage forms both aesthetically pleasing and tasty.

Like syrups, there are both commercial and homeopathic elixirs. Pharmaceutical varieties typically contain all the same kinds of flavorings and colors as commercial syrups, without the syrup itself. Homeopathic elixirs are usually a mix of grain alcohol, such as vodka, with water and herbs. Some magical practitioners and herbalists also soak crystals in their elixirs, believing that healing energies from the stones will leach into the liquid.

Drops are the last of the liquid dosage forms. Hundreds of different kinds of drops exist. The most common kinds are those dripped into the eyes, ears, or nose. Medicinal drops are the fastest and most direct way to medicate these areas. Tiny bottles with small holes in the tips through which drops may be squeezed, or measured eyedroppers or pipettes, can aid in accurately administering dropped liquids to small openings in the body.

Some kinds of drops are meant for oral use. Vitamins are sometimes given to humans and animal infants via flavored drops. In these cases, the medication is not usually concentrated, but mixed with oils to help the vitamins absorb into the system. Infant drops may also be a very diluted form of a syrup or elixir that is administered to adults at full-strength.

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