omnipresent medicine used by many for reducing pain and fever, may be most
commonly known as Tylenol, but it is also found in other fever-reducing
medicines. With all of the illnesses going around this time of year, a lot of acetaminophen is being given to
kids, and care must be taken.
When used appropriately, acetaminophen is effective and
generally safe—but too much of it can
be fatal. And an overdose can occur more easily than you think.
Why is taking too
much acetaminophen harmful?
Acetaminophen is a drug
that is metabolized (broken down in the liver). If a person takes too much
acetaminophen, the drug will overwhelm the liver and damage it. This is
How does an overdose
By measuring it improperly. Because caution must be used when
administering acetaminophen, always use the measuring tool that comes with
it and read the accompanying directions.
By giving the wrong dose. With the exception of some inhaled
meds, all children's medications (including
acetaminophen) are dosed based
on the child's weight up to 40 kg—that is, there is no standard children's dose. Thus, two children of the same age but different weights may not take the same
By assuming that more is better. More acetaminophen is not better. Some parents think they
can give an extra dose if the initial dose hasn't brought results.
By giving it too frequently. Acetaminophen is typically given
every 4 hours to 6 hours, as needed for fever or pain, and preferably for not
more than 5 doses per day. Keep track of when you give a medicine, since middle-of-the-night
doses can sometimes become a blur by morning. It’s always worth writing down when you give medicines.
By accidentally giving multiple doses of it. Some combination
medicines for cough and cold (which,
by the way, are not recommended at all for children under 6 years of age)
also contain acetaminophen. A person who doesn’t realize this fact may inadvertently
give additional doses of acetaminophen to a child, which can result in too
much of the drug overall.
By ingesting it accidentally. As with all medicines, keep acetaminophen
out of reach and securely closed. Children’s liquid medicines are purposely
made to taste really sweet so kids will have an easier time taking them. And
of course pills can often look like candy to children. Both this extra
sweetness and the candy-like appearance may tempt a child to take more if
given the opportunity.
By taking an intentional overdose. Here, people in emotional distress
purposely take too much medicine in order to harm themselves.
How do you know if
your child has had too much acetaminophen?
Signs of overdose may
include nausea and vomiting, excessive or unwarranted fatigue, and
A blood test can be given
to measure the blood level of acetaminophen.
If you ever become concerned
that your child may have taken too much of any drug, call your Poison
Control Center (1-800-222-1222). They can help calculate if the child has
had a dose big enough to be dangerous. If possible, knowing the child’s
age and weight, as well as the formulation and quantity of the medicine
ingested, will be helpful.