Objective: The aim of the study was to identify the patterns of use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications among children.
Methods: The study used a qualitative design, with in-depth interviews of 40 parents with children <5 years of age.
Results: There were 3 striking and readily apparent themes in the use of OTC medications among children. One was the administration of OTC medications as a form of "social medication," to give parents control over children's behavior that they perceived as fractious and irritating. A related theme was the use of OTC medications to reduce the inconvenience to the parents of having a sick child, again giving parents greater control and better time-management abilities. Finally, acetaminophen was considered by many parents to have almost miraculous properties in calming, sedating, and lifting the mood of children.
Conclusions: The use of OTC medications for the treatment of minor ailments among children is widespread, despite the lack of evidence of efficacy of the most commonly used medications and the potential for toxicity. With the increasing propensity to look to medication as a means of supporting changing lifestyles, there is an urgent need to review the prevalence and effects of social medication.