If you have young children, then chances are you have paracetamol in your medicine cupboard and use it to treat some of the many ailments that are part of childhood.
When you’ve got a screaming baby who seems poorly and feels a little warm, most of us don’t hesitate to reach for our trusty bottle of Calpol.
However, according to Professor Alastair Sutcliffe, who specializes in general paediatrics at University College London, we could be doing the wrong thing, warning that we have become overly reliant on dosing up our babies and toddlers.
In a recent interview with The Sunday Times, he said that parents should hold off administering the drug:
Parents are using paracetamol too permissively. They seem to fear fever as an illness per se, which it is not. There is evidence that the excess usage of paracetamol is associated with increased rates of asthma, increased rates of liver damage – but [also] less widely known, kidney and heart damage.
A mild fever is anything from about 37.5 C to about 38 C – so Calpol should not be used to treat a mild fever alone. Parents should consider using the drug only if there are other symptoms of illness also present. If a child can seem well but has a slight temperature, avoid giving him or her Calpol.
It should be emphasized that fever is not an illness but is, in fact, a physiological mechanism that has beneficial effects in fighting infection”– says the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) in its official guidance.
Family doctors too readily advise parents to use the medicines, known collectively as “antipyretics”, according to the authors of the guidance.
Children’s paracetamol solutions such as Calpol and ibuprofen solutions such as Nurofen for Children are sold over the counter in chemists. Recommended dosage quantities vary by age.
According to the British National Formulary, which GPs consult when prescribing or advising on medication, children should receive no more than four doses of the right amount of paracetamol in a 24-hour period, and no more than four doses of ibuprofen a day.
Doctors, the authors write, should begin “by helping parents understand that fever, in and of itself, is not known to endanger a generally healthy child”. “It should be emphasized that fever is not an illness but is, in fact, a physiological mechanism that has beneficial effects in fighting infection.”
Paracetamol has been linked to asthma, while there have been reports of ibuprofen causing stomach ulcers and bleeding, and leading to kidney problems.
When your child has a fever or high temperature it’s important to give them lots to drink. Offer frequent sips even if they don’t feel thirsty. You can also take off their clothes and give appropriate medicine, as outlined above, to help them feel better and reduce their temperature.
There are seven age bands for dosage, as outlined below:
3 months to 6 months: 2.5 ml of infant paracetamol suspension, given up to four times per day
6 months to 24 months: 5 ml of infant paracetamol suspension, given up to four times a day
2 years to 4 years: 7.5 ml of infant paracetamol suspension, given up to four times a day
4 years to 6 years: 10 ml of infant paracetamol suspension, given up to four times a day
6 years to 8 years: 5 ml of paracetamol six-plus suspension, given up to four times a day
8 years to 10 years: 7.5 ml of paracetamol six-plus suspension, given up to four times a day
10 years to 12 years: 10 ml of paracetamol six-plus suspension, given up to four times a day
If you need any further clarification, take a look at the NHS Choices website, which offers clear, authoritative advice on paracetamol dosage.