More parents are giving OTC medications, such as acetaminophen, to their young children, often without the advice of health care professionals, the study team says.
"Half of all the medications used worldwide are non-prescription - it is a huge and growing industry under limited control from the health care system," Dr. Janne Fangel Jensen, who led the research, told Reuters Health by email.
Jensen is a researcher with the Department of Public Health at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, in Denmark.
Acetaminophen - sold as paracetamol outside of the U.S. - is the most widely used drug in many developed countries. It's a safe treatment for many forms of mild pain and has few known side effects, Jensen said.
But overdosing with acetaminophen can be dangerous, she cautioned. "In my opinion it is important to limit the use of paracetamol to when it is indicated and to prevent an increasing 'over-medication' especially in children."
To gauge whether a mother's use of painkillers influences how often children take the drugs, the researchers surveyed mothers of 131 Danish children ages 6 to 11.
Jensen and his colleagues asked how often the children were given non-prescription pain relievers during the previous three months and during the past year. They also asked how often the children had felt pain. In addition, there were questions about the mothers' use of medication and general health.
The researchers found that 45 percent of the children had been given OTC pain relievers, mostly acetaminophen, during the previous three months. And 22 percent were given acetaminophen at least every other month for the previous year.
One-third of the mothers said they had chronic pain and 39 percent reported taking OTC pain relievers at least once per month, Jensen's team reports in Pediatrics.
The researchers discovered that mothers who believed their children had recurrent pain tended to give them acetaminophen at least every other month.
And, in general, mothers who took pain relievers themselves every month also reported giving acetaminophen to their children more often during the previous three months.
"Our main finding is that mothers who use more OTC analgesics themselves have a tendency to also give it more often to their children," Jensen said.
Image: Child having medicine, via Shutterstock