Five critical safety considerations for parents

We can't imagine anyone's family medicine cabinet not containing a bottle of Calpol. And quite a few of us here at MFM HQ don't feel 'covered for all possibilities' if we take the kids out for the day without a couple of 'just in case' sachets of the stuff stashed in our changing bag, alongside the spare nappies and wet wipes.

So it's a little concerning when we see headlines warning that Calpol and other paracetamol-based child medicines can be dangerous, as we did near the end of 2015. and that we may need to reconsider how we use them or risk endangering our children's health


After all, we've all done it: given our kids Calpol when they're a little grumpy or not quite themselves but aren't necessarily, categorically, properly ill. But, in doing so, are we unknowingly endangering our children's health?

The short answer is most likely no. But, to help us all figure out how to do our best for our children when they're sick, we've looked behind the scary headlines to try to find the right facts.

So, here are 5 Calpol facts (as well as other paracetamol-based child medicines) that every parent should be aware of.

To begin with, if you know what's wrong with your child and they're in pain from, say, a sore throat or an earache, Calpol and other paracetamol-based medicines can work wonders to make everything feel better. Even Professor Alastair Sutcliffe of University College London, the 'top paediatrician' mentioned in the headline, told MFM that it's a fantastic product to have on hand.

More of the same

Professor Sutcliffe also emphasizes the importance of not reaching for the Calpol without first determining what is causing our child's illness. "If your child has a fever and isn't eating and hasn't caught a known bug that's going around," he says, "the first thing he or she needs is a diagnosis [from a healthcare professional] and not blind Calpol." ”

The verdict is still out on this one, and more research is needed, but many child-health experts, including Professor Sutcliffe, now believe that a low-grade fever is often a temporary condition - and the body's natural response to infection. And, if this is the case, giving a child with a mild fever Calpol to help bring his or her temperature down may result in the child becoming ill for a longer period of time.

"Fever is a body defense to prevent bugs from breeding," the professor explains, "so giving Calpol may prolong the illness." "However, more testing is required to confirm this," he adds.

Even if your child only has a low-grade fever (37), 5C to 38C) and does not appear to be otherwise ill, it may be better to try cooling things down by stripping him or her down as a first step rather than reaching for the Calpol. Then, keep a close eye on your child's temperature to ensure it does not rise (in which case, Calpol and/or a trip to the doctor may be necessary). More information about baby fevers can be found in our baby fever guide.


And now for the scary headlines. The idea that we could be seriously harming our children's health made headlines after Professor Sutcliffe was quoted as saying that chronic use of Calpol (or other paracetamol-based medicines) could lead to kidney, heart, and liver damage in children over time.

And, yes, he did say this, but it's important to understand why. He stated that this type of serious health problem would only affect some children and, more importantly, would be caused by long-term Calpol use.

In other words, unless you're dosing your child with Calpol on a regular basis for weeks on end, you're extremely unlikely to harm his or her kidneys, liver, or heart with it.

So, we all know that we should follow the directions on the bottle and only give our child the correct, age-appropriate dose of Calpol, repeated (if necessary) at the recommended intervals every 24 hours.

Where it can go wrong is when you share childcare with relatives or childminders and someone else gives your child a dose of Calpol, forgets to tell you, and then you give another one.

"I have seen a child die from being given double doses, accidentally, for four days," Professor Sutcliffe says. "

Before you panic about an accidental overdose, remember that "it is not dangerous to have an extra dose," says the professor, "provided you stick within the TOTAL dose recommendations for any 24-hour period." ”

Best of all, if you share childcare with relatives or childminders, make sure everyone keeps track of how much medicine your child is taking and when. Securing a Post-it note to the Calpol bottle (with an elastic band) and asking people to write down the time and date of the dose, as well as how much they've given, can work really well.


A recent (2016) study conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the University of Oslo, and the University of Bristol found a possible link between paracetamol use in children under the age of 6 months and an increased risk of developing child asthma.

While it was a large, well-regarded study, it does appear that a child given paracetamol in his or her first 6 months has a 27% to 29% increased risk of developing child asthma. It is critical to understand that your child's risk of developing asthma is low in the first place. As frightening as percentage increases may sound, they are actually a percentage of a very small number, implying that your child's risk of developing asthma remains relatively low.

(It's also worth noting that this study looked at the increased risk of child asthma in babies whose mothers took paracetamol while pregnant, and found similar results.) The guidelines for pregnant women taking paracetamol have not changed; please see our guidance on which medicines are safe to take while pregnant. )

We will continue to update this Calpol facts article as new research on children and paracetamol becomes available.

Meanwhile, what do you do on days when your child is grumpy but not seriously ill? We know Capol isn't the answer, but we wish there was a Capol Light (or something) - a medicine with a similar appearance, texture, and taste but no paracetamol. We could give our kids a placebo Calpol as a comforter to make them feel better when they're sick but don't really need medication.

But what does Professor Sutcliffe think about that? "I'd really like to know what's in this mixture." " he explained to us "However, as long as it is not harmful, I am sympathetic." " Keep an eye on this."

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