Unintentional ingestion of over the counter medications in children less than 5 years old

J Paediatr Child Health. 2003 May-Jun;39(4):264-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1754.2003.00148.x.


Objective: Childhood ingestion of medications remains a substantial problem. Medication available over the counter (OTC) is widely used and has significant toxicity. The present study aims to investigate the nature and extent of unintentional ingestion of OTC medication in children < 5 years old in Victoria, Australia, during the period 1996-2000, in order to highlight critical factors.

Methods: Numbers of enquiries relating to unintentional ingestion of OTC medication in children < 5 years old and medication types were obtained from the Victorian Poisons Information Centre for 1998-2000. Emergency Department presentations involving poisoning of children < 5 years old, the medication types and subsequent admissions were obtained from the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset for 1996-2000.

Results: Numbers of enquiries and Emergency Department attendances for poisoning were substantially higher for OTC medication than for prescription medication; however, a lower proportion of cases involving ingestion of OTC medication (24.8%) required hospital admission during the study period compared with cases involving ingestion of prescription medications (33.8%). Overall, the peak incidence was at 2 years of age, with a slight male over-representation. Paracetamol and cough/cold preparations were the most common agents.

Conclusions: The causes of unintentional ingestion of OTC medications by children might include lack of child-resistant closure (CRC), inadequate design of CRC, attitudes concerning the toxicity of OTC medications, or lack of vigilance by parents and carers in the storage and administration of OTC medications. Consideration should be given to restricting sales of toxic OTC medications to pharmacies, and increasing counselling of consumers concerning the toxicity and safe storage of OTC medications and the correct usage of CRC. The adequacy of CRC design and OTC medications warranting CRC should be reviewed by the relevant authorities.

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Nonprescription Drugs*
  • Poisoning / epidemiology*
  • Victoria / epidemiology


  • Nonprescription Drugs