Acetaminophen is a common type of pain reliever and fever reducer. Some of the most common brand names include Tylenol, Actamin and Feverall. While over-the-counter brands are most prominent in the U.S. market, some patients take prescription strength versions to help aid more severe symptoms. For years, acetaminophen was widely regarded as a safe form of pain relief. However, like any other oral medication, acetaminophen comes with the risk of side effects. While many risks are associated with overdose, health complications may also arise out of from long-term use. Understanding how to take acetaminophen is essential for keeping you and your family safe. It is always best to talk to a doctor first, especially if you currently take any other medications.
Uses for Acetaminophen
Over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers are used for common health ailments. Acetaminophen works specifically by altering the way your body responds to pain or an increase in temperature. According to the National Institutes of Health, acetaminophen is classified both as an analgesic (pain reliever) as well as an antipyretic (fever reducer).
Acetaminophen is a temporary method to reduce numerous sources of pain. Patients most commonly use this drug to relieve pain associated with:
- A common cold
- Flu symptoms
- Muscle aches
- Arthritis and minor joint pain
- Menstrual cramps
This over-the-counter analgesic may also be used to reduce fevers. However, it is important to determine the severity of a fever before taking acetaminophen, or administering it to others. While a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit is not widely regarded as a medical emergency in older children and adults, the opposite is true in toddlers. Infants under six weeks should also be evaluated if a fever of 101 degrees or more is read. You may consider calling a doctor if acetaminophen fails to reduce your fever, or if symptoms last longer than two days.
Risks & Side Effects
This drug may cause side effects such as:
- Itchy skin
- Facial or neck swelling
- Breathing difficulties
Such side effects are often associated with an allergic reaction and you should notify a doctor right away.
Symptoms of an overdose include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme fatigue
- Symptoms of jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
- Abdominal pain
One of the most common reasons why patients succumb to serious complications from acetaminophen is because they take the wrong dose. The risk is there whether you take too much at one time, or if you take more than the recommended amount in 24 hours. Long-term side effects are also more likely to occur when taking this medication for more than seven consecutive days. If pain is present beyond a week’s time, you should discuss other methods of relief with a doctor before continuing this medication.
It is also important to be aware of any combination products you may take. For example, Dayquil and Nyquil are both popular over-the-counter medications for cold and flu symptoms, but each one contains acetaminophen. In addition to acetaminophen, Dayquil contains dextromethorphan and pseudoephedrine, while Nyquil contains dextromethorphan as well as doxylamine. Read product ingredients carefully to avoid taking more than one version of acetaminophen. Prescription pain relievers, such as Percocet also have acetaminophen.
Acetaminophen is widely known as a safe drug. However, not every drug is completely risk-free. Mild side effects may subside after you stop using the medication. More serious complications may occur, especially in the liver. The risk for liver disease is highest if you take acetaminophen with alcohol, or if you use the drug longer than the recommended timeframe. In worst case scenarios, acetaminophen misuse or abuse may cause death.
If you experience any side effects or suspect an overdose of acetaminophen, contact the poison control center immediately at: 1 (800) 222-1222. Patients who lose consciousness should be transported to the hospital by calling 911.
Regular strength Tylenol is one of the most commonly purchased forms of acetaminophen on the market. According to the official website, individuals 12 years of age and older may take two tablets at one time. While you may take the medication every 4to 6 hours, the manufacturer recommends that you do not exceed 10 tablets in a 24-hour period. At the same time, Tylenol does not recommend taking the product longer than 10 days.
The recommended dose for regular strength Tylenol is about half for children ages 6 to 11, according to the manufacturer’s website. Adults may safely give most children in this age group one tablet every 4 to 6 hours, but not to exceed five tablets in a 24-hour timeframe. Individuals 6 to 11 should not take this product for more than five days.
When it comes to administering acetaminophen to children under the age of six, it is important to talk to a pediatrician and to look for a product appropriate for this age group. The dosage depends on both age and weight. If your child weighs more or less than the average listed on the dosage recommendations of the product, ask a doctor how much acetaminophen to administer. When in doubt, it is best to use the smaller dose until you receive further clarification.
According to the Mayo Clinic, an overdose can occur in children under the age of five when they consume 91 mg per pound of weight in an eight-hour period. Children over the age of six may overdose when they take 10 grams of acetaminophen in a 24-hour time-frame.
For many families, acetaminophen is an essential product to have on hand. Brand names of this drug may come and go, but the ingredient itself is here to stay. However, the wide use of acetaminophen does not mean it is safe for everyone to use. Always discuss pain relief options with a physician before using any drug.