Are parents inadvertently harming their children with paracetamol?

By Steve Tomlin, Consultant Pharmacist, paediatrics

Paracetamol is the most commonly used drug to treat children, often without the help of a healthcare professional.  There are currently 95 products available on the market. With this wide spread availability of paracetamol products, it is feasible that parents and careers could inadvertently administer more than the recommended daily dose of paracetamol to their child. A new YouGov survey recently commissioned by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society shows that only a quarter of parents know which children medicines, out of those most commonly used, contain paracetamol. This means that they may unintentionally be giving their child simultaneous doses of paracetamol. The risk of accidental overdose is even higher in a busy world where a child is commonly looked after by more than one person and in different settings and carers may be unaware that a dose has already been given.

Whilst taking paracetamol at the recommended dose and frequency is safe, evidence shows that only small increases of just an extra dose a day over the course of three days can potentially cause liver damage.

The survey results also reveals that parents are confused as to which ailments paracetamol is actually an effective treatment for. Although they would mostly consider remedies such as Calpol, Disprol, Medinol correctly for teething pains, fever and stomach pains, a fifth of parents would use the same products to treat ailments which paracetamol has no proven effects on, e.g. cough and sleep. Having said that, sometimes even conditions such as fever cause an unnecessary anxiety.

The recommended doses of paracetamol for children changed in November 2011 to ensure that children get the optimum and most effective dose of paracetamol. The new recommended doses match more closely amounts based on body weight (instead of age) by introducing a larger number of narrower age bands.

Our message to parents in light of the new statistics is that paracetamol is a perfectly safe drug as long as you use it in the correct doses. If you are unsure of which products are most appropriate for a certain condition and when to give paracetamol to your child, speak to your pharmacists or a healthcare professional for best advice!

2 comments on “Are parents inadvertently harming their children with paracetamol?

  1. A compelling case for all paediatric medication and products containing paracetamol being restricted to pharmacies. However, how often do pharmacists actually discuss paracetamol dosing with parents?

  2. Thank you for reading our blog. On your question about how often do parents and pharmacists discuss childrens dosing of paracetamol…probably not often enough in my view. We want parents to make informed choices about healthcare and one of the ways they can do that is through a conversation with a pharmacist. We want to highlight the fact that doses have changed and hopefully the information we have promoted to parents will give them cause to think: “should I give paracetamol for this condition?” And “how much should I give?” Pharmacists can help answer both of these.

Comments are closed.