Over-the-counter medications. Do parents give what they intend to give?

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997 Jul;151(7):654-6. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170440016003.


Objective: To evaluate caregiver (parent or guardian) use of over-the-counter medications (OTCs) as related to the accuracy and correctness of dosing for children seen at a pediatric emergency department with nonemergent concerns.

Design: Prospective patient series.

Setting: A tertiary care pediatric emergency center.

Participants: A representative sample of children with nonemergent chief complaints.

Interventions: A questionnaire about general demographic characteristics, recent OTC use, and medical history of the patients was given to each caregiver. A mock scenario was then presented that required the caregivers to determine and measure a correct dose of acetaminophen for their child. A dose of 9 to 16.5 mg/kg was considered correct. Accuracy of measuring was considered within +/-20% of the caregivers' stated intended dose for their child.

Results: One hundred caregivers were enrolled in the study. Mean caregivers' age was 29 years, with 82% having at least a high school education. Seventy-seven percent of their children used OTCs within the previous 2 months, and Tylenol (acetaminophen) was the most commonly used. While 66% of the caregivers reported Tylenol use, only 8% reported the use of acetaminophen. During the dosing scenario, only 40% of the caregivers stated an appropriate dose for their child and only 67% accurately measured the amount of acetaminophen they intended. Forty-three percent measured out a correct amount of acetaminophen for their child. However, almost one third of these occurred strictly by accident because they inaccurately measured an improper intended dose. Combining these results, only 30% of the caregivers were able to demonstrate both an accurately measured and correct dose for their child.

Conclusions: Although a large number of caregivers administer OTCs, knowledge of these medications, and accuracy and correctness of dosing remain a marked concern. Improved caregiver education on the accuracy and correctness of dosing OTCs is necessary.

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / administration & dosage
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / administration & dosage
  • Child
  • Female
  • Fever / drug therapy
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Errors*
  • Nonprescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Parents*


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Acetaminophen