Over-the-counter medication use among US preschool-age children

JAMA. 1994 Oct 5;272(13):1025-30.


Objective: To estimate the prevalence of recent over-the-counter (OTC) medication use in a national sample of preschool-age children.

Design: Follow-up survey of a nationally representative sample of 3-year-old children in the US population by telephone or personal interview.

Participants: A total of 8145 children whose mothers were interviewed for the 1991 Longitudinal Follow-up to the National Maternal and Infant Health Survey.

Main outcome measures: Report of any OTC medications given in the past 30 days and the type of medications that the child received.

Results: During the past 30 days, 53.7% of all 3-year-old children in the United States were given some OTC medications. Among OTC medication users, the most common medications reported were Tylenol (66.7%) and cough or cold medicine (66.7%). Most respondents reported that recent child illness episodes (70%) were treated with OTC medications. After adjustment for recent child illness, women who were white (odds ratio [OR], 1.32; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.13 to 1.55), were more educated (OR, 1.58; 95% CI, 1.24 to 2.00), and had higher incomes (OR, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.33 to 2.30) were more likely to have given their child OTC medications. Women without health insurance were also more likely to have given OTC medications (OR, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.04 to 1.55). Provider visits, but not telephone calls, were associated with a reduction in OTC medication usage.

Conclusions: Over-the-counter medications are an important component of health care for treating illness in US preschool-age children. The high prevalence of use has occurred despite the dearth of scientific proof for the effectiveness of certain classes of OTC medications and the risks associated with improper use.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Prevalence
  • Self Medication / statistics & numerical data*
  • Self Medication / trends
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States


  • Nonprescription Drugs