Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) has long been a standard remedy for fever and pain in children. It's effective and available without a prescription. But, in excess, it can be harmful. Here's what you need to know about acetaminophen overdoses and children.
An acetaminophen overdose can happen in the blink of an eye. Consider these scenarios:
If you give your child acetaminophen, read the product label carefully to determine the correct dose based on your child's weight. Generally, doses can be repeated every four hours, but shouldn't be given more than five times in 24 hours.
Too much acetaminophen overloads the liver's ability to process the drug safely. An acetaminophen overdose can lead to life-threatening liver problems.
If you're concerned about a possible acetaminophen overdose or notice early signs or symptoms of an overdose — nausea, vomiting, lethargy and abdominal pain within 24 hours — call a poison control center at 800-222-1222 in the United States or seek emergency care. If possible, note the strength or concentration of acetaminophen in the product to help poison control or the emergency responders assess your child. If you seek medical help, take the medication bottle with you.
In the hospital, a child with an acetaminophen overdose will have a blood test to determine if the concentration in his or her blood is toxic. If necessary, an antidote might be given to reverse the effects of the acetaminophen.
Before you give your child acetaminophen, consider whether he or she needs it. For example, the main goal of treating a child who has a fever is to improve his or her comfort — not to normalize his or her body temperature. In addition:
Careful use of acetaminophen and prompt treatment in case of an overdose can help prevent a tragedy.