Aims: Despite the widespread use of self-medication among the child population and the potential harm it can do, up-to-date epidemiological data on self-medication are sparse worldwide. The aim was to investigate the prevalence and correlates of self-medication use among non-institutionalized children in Germany, focusing on the paediatric self-medications that are most frequently used.
Methods: All cases of last-week medicine use were recorded among 17 450 children aged 0-17 years who participated in the 2003-2006 German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents. Self-medication was defined as the use of medicines that had either been bought over the counter or obtained from other sources (OS). The complex sample method was used to estimate the prevalence of, and factors associated with self-medication use.
Results: During the previous week 25.2% of participants had used self-medication (17.0% used over-the-counter drugs and 9.9% other-sources drugs). Self-medication accounted for 38.5% of total medicine use and included all medication classes. These clustered among drugs acting on the respiratory system (32.1%), alimentary tract and metabolism (21.6%), skin (14.2%) and nervous system (11.3%), as well as homoeopathic preparations (8.6%). Vitamin preparations were most frequently used with a weighted user prevalence of 4.7% (5.2% vs. 4.1%, P < 0.001, boys vs. girls), followed by cough and cold medicines (CCMs) 4.4% (4.3 vs. 4.5, P > 0.05) and analgesics 3.7% (3.0% vs. 4.4%, P < 0.001, both boys vs. girls). Overall use of aspirin among children <12 years old was 0.3%; use of CCMs was substantial (4.4%), particularly among children <6 years old. Use of self-medication was closely related to older adolescent ages of between 14 and 17 years (odds ratio 1.16; 95% confidence interval 1.00, 1.33), children with a poor health status (1.29; 1.10, 1.52), with no immigration background (1.55; 1.33, 1.80), from families with a higher household income (1.23; 1.06, 1.42) and with mothers with a higher educational level (1.37; 1.19, 1.57).
Conclusions: Self-medication use is highly prevalent in Germany, particularly among children and adolescents from families with a higher socioeconomic status. Self-medication in younger children using such drugs as CCMs and aspirin suggested inappropriate drug use and potential risks. This should be closely monitored and warrants an education programme for parents in Germany.