Be careful with paracetamol use in children
By naturopath Margaret Jasinska
Paracetamol is the most widely used medicine in children, both in hospitals and in homes. In most countries it is available on supermarket and pharmacy shelves, as well as a prescribed medicine. It is used to relieve pain and fever. Pain has historically been undertreated in very young children who are not yet able to speak, while fever is overtreated, especially in high income countries. There are concerns regarding the safety of paracetamol in relation to potential liver toxicity and possible long term effects in the development of asthma. Paracetamol use during pregnancy raises the risk of autism and ADHD. In male embryos it can impair testicular development, leading to reduced testosterone production later in life. It is certainly a medication that should be used with caution.
Paracetamol can be particularly dangerous in infants and children under 5 years of age. These very young children have an immature liver without fully developed detoxification functions. In children with a fever, paracetamol can be more dangerous, because the increased body temperature increases the production of toxic breakdown products of the paracetamol. Overdose is more likely if paracetamol is given every 2 or 3 hours or for more than 48 hours. It is vital that parents do not mix multiple medications containing paracetamol, such as found in fever reducing medications, pain relievers and cough medicines. It is very easy to overdose a child on paracetamol and severe cases of liver failure induced by paracetamol have required liver transplant and have even resulted in death of children.
In any child with a fever it is obviously important to see a medical doctor for a physical examination and to see if any pathology tests are required. If no serious infection is found and the mother takes her child home, putting the child in a tepid bath and sponging the skin with water is usually very effective. It is also critical to keep the child well hydrated, and replace electrolytes if necessary.
Most children are exposed to a plethora of germs and viruses on a daily basis once they enter daycare or school. This is because they are coming into contact with other children that could be infected, or touching objects (toys, pencils, sporting equipment, etc) that are harbouring germs. Luckily, we all have an inbuilt defence system (the immune system) which protects us from getting sick every time we are in contact with germs. A strong immune system is better equipped to ward off infection than a weakened one.