Childhood illnesses and the use of paracetamol (acetaminophen): a qualitative study of parents' management of common childhood illnesses
Childhood illnesses and the use of paracetamol (acetaminophen): a qualitative study of parents’ management of common childhood illnesses
Parents frequently give over-the-counter paracetamol (acetaminophen) during childhood illness. This study aims at exploring parents’ use of this medicine in relation to their management of common childhood illnesses and the impact on the family.
Parents of pre-school aged children were asked open-ended questions about their perceptions of illness, its impact on the family, the use of paracetamol and sources of medical information. The interviews were audiotaped. The transcribed text was condensed and different views and opinions were identified for each question. The parents were recruited from six Norwegian public health centres during a questionnaire study on the use of paracetamol among their children. Volunteering parents supplied their name and telephone number for further contact. A strategic sample of 24 parents was selected for interviews according to their responses to the questionnaire and family characteristics.
Parents recognized illness among their children either intuitively or by taking notice of specific signs or symptoms. Fever was considered a definite sign of illness, almost congruent with the disease itself. Some parents acknowledged that low or moderate fever reflected a battle between the body and the disease-causing organism. High or rapidly increasing fever, however, was frequently looked upon as dangerous. Mothers preferred to stay close to their child during illness and postponed other duties. Inexperienced parents felt particularly anxious and helpless since they often found the severity of the illness difficult to judge. Administration of paracetamol gave parents the feeling of mastery. The medicine was also used to calm down the child enabling sleep and rest for the whole family. Some parents were generally interested in information about child diseases, others were only eager to know more about it during periods of illness, and some parents were not interested as they felt information only caused more anxiety.
Fever was often judged to cause discomfort and danger. Thus antipyretics like paracetamol were regarded as a medicine counteracting disease. Paracetamol constituted an important tool for parents in managing different upsets during childhood illnesses. Information was not always wanted. Better knowledge about the significance of fever and how to handle children during common illnesses might need to be presented in a context familiar to parents, for instance, in relation to general information on childcare.
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