Calpol is the trade name of a popular painkiller medicine given to infants and children. It contains paracetamol that is suspended in a liquid and is used to treat teething, headache, fever, earache and other mild to moderate aches and pains.
Unfortunately, Calpol is one of the most expensive paracetamol products you can buy and experts have raised questions about how safe it is when given to young children.
On this page we’ll cover:
- The truth about claims Calpol increases asthma rates in children.
- E numbers and other ingredients in Calpol medicine.
- Why it’s so expensive and a look at very similar products and how much they cost (a price comparison).
- Can you get Calpol for free on the NHS?
- Natural alternatives.
Is Calpol Safe?
“Excessive use of the medicine and other brands linked to asthma and may also cause kidney, liver and heart damage.”
“Babies given Calpol just once a month ‘are five times as likely to develop asthma'”
The truth is somewhat less clear.
One should remember that correlation doesn’t mean causation.
A study of over 20,000 children concluded that those given paracetamol liquid were five times more likely to develop asthma.
Unfortunately, the report didn’t adequately account for the fact that children with pre-existing asthma symptoms such as wheezing were more likely to be given the medicine as a treatment.
Imagine a headline that reads “women who take breast cancer medicine are more likely to have breast cancer”.
Well of course they are, that’s why they take the medicine in the first place.
Upon peer review, it has become clear that there’s no conclusive evidence that Calpol or other similar medicines cause asthma.
In 2018, the NHS (National Health Service in the UK) updated their Calpol advisory (now deleted) and concluded that the link between liquid paracetamol and asthma is not proven.
Other Calpol Ingredients
Personally, I would be more concerned about the other ingredients in Calpol and other similar medicines.
Calpol contains no less than five different E numbers; Methyl (E218), Propyl (E216), Ethyl (E214), Sorbitol liquid (E420) and Maltitol liquid (E965).
Some E numbers, when taken in combination with others, have been linked to hyperactivity in children and can cause diarrhoea.
Several are even banned or limited in several countries:
Methyl (E218), Propyl (E216) and Ethyl (E214) are all banned in France and Australia.
Sorbitol liquid (E420) can cause diarrhoea and is not recommended for young children in some countries.
This patient leaflet has more information about Calpol and its ingredients.
Why is it so Expensive?
Because Calpol is the number one brand in the UK for this medicine and some people instinctively purchase the most well-known product regardless of price, quality and competition.
Calpol, like all similar medicines, is little more than a syrup with paracetamol and is cheap to manufacture.
Cheaper Calpol Alternatives
Check out our price comparison table below which was updated on the 7th of December 2017.
All products are similar and comparable (suitable for 3+ months):
|Calpol Infant Suspension (Via Boots)||£3.50 per 100ml|
|Asda Infant Paracetamol Suspension||£1.75 per 100ml|
|Morrisons Junior Paracetamol Suspension||£1.77 per 100ml|
|Boots Paracetamol Suspension||£2.65 per 100ml|
Can You Get it for Free on the NHS?
Calpol and similar medicines are available via a prescription from an NHS doctor.
Your child must have an acute medical condition and you’ll need to see the doctor.
As you’re probably aware, NHS prescriptions are free for UK children so yes, you can get Calpol for free, but only for a specific medical condition.
The Minor Ailment Scheme
You may have seen this post on Facebook:
This scheme was created so patients can get access to basic medicines and advice from pharmacies and other settings outside of doctor’s surgeries, this saves time for both patients and doctors.
Unfortunately, some parents have abused the system and used it to stock up on medicines such as Calpol.
The scheme is voluntary and many pharmacies now refuse to offer free Calpol and other related “minor ailment” medicines under this scheme.
You might be able to get a bottle for a specific condition, but considering unbranded similar products are so cheap, it might not be worth your time travelling out of your way (with your child) just to find a pharmacy that offers it for free.
Boots has more information about the Minor Ailment Scheme here.
Natural Alternatives to Calpol
The following is a quote from Rach on the Green Planet Forum:
I have found the following quite good used in various combos or all together on really bad days!
Oil burner with lavender for comfort and calmative effects or peppermint to relieve temperatures
Amber necklace – swear by them! Never too late
Frozen green beans to gnaw on -just put a few int he freezer until they’re well and truly solid and let the baby chew away
Lots of booby
Co-sleeping for a few nights if they’re not already
Oats and mashed potato topped fish pie to fill up tummy and quite calming foods including herbs like fennel and dill
Allowing the child to bite your finger and you can massage the gums too
Nurofen for babies – less crap than calpol and marginally better than paracetamol on the child’s system
The Foods Matter website has a list of homoeopathic alternatives worth exploring.
There appears to be no concrete evidence linking liquid paracetamol to asthma or other serious illnesses but I am concerned about the E number additives in Calpol and many other similar products.
These appear to be preservatives, flavours and colourants that could possibly be swapped for natural alternatives.
Personally, I would try to limit the amount of Calpol I used, the E numbers are my biggest concern.
The cost of Calpol is ridiculously high, twice the price of the cheapest alternative so do shop around for the best price.
The NHS’s Minor Ailment Scheme may provide you with a bottle or two for free but they’re unlikely to give you enough to stock up and prepare for future needs.
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