It’s the middle of the night. You’re walking the floor with a feverish child, their nose running, eyes huge with tears – too young to explain what hurts, or how much. They’re definitely not well, but not A&E-department ill. Most parents will recognise that moment of desperation: it’s time to hit the bottle.
The bottle with lurid pink mixture, that is: Calpol. It shifts 12 million units a year in the UK, and a study in 2007 found that 84 per cent of children had been given paracetamol by the age of six months. Such is our dependence on this formula that we have been dubbed the Calpol Generation.
Don’t blame parents for that – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sat in a busy GP’s surgery only to be told to dose up one of my children with infant paracetamol. It is also the nurse’s standard advice after any jab. But the safety of the medication is in doubt after a number of studies linking paracetamol to asthma.
The latest, by Spanish academics, appears to have frightening headline statistics: children aged six and seven given the medicine once a month were five times more likely to have asthma. Even having it once a year increased the chances by 70 per cent. The study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, put forward the theory that paracetamol may reduce levels of a chemical, glutathione, in the lungs and blood, which results in damage to the lung tissue.
Yikes. I’d put myself in the “once a year” rather than “once a month” category (I take a last-resort attitude to all medicine thanks to the vile kaolin and morphine mixture that GPs used to dole out for sickness bugs when I was a child). But I’ve probably used Calpol enough to wonder whether I’ll be bulk-buying inhalers for my daughters.