Cold Season Brings Acetaminophen Overdose Risk

This common ingredient can be in both prescription meds and cold remedies

Millions of Americans take prescription medicine. Millions of Americans get colds and flu. If they take prescriptions containing acetaminophen and then take a cold remedy containing acetaminophen, that can spell trouble.

Chances are, if you take a pill, you take acetaminophen. It's the most common drug ingredient in America.

It is found in more than 600 different medicines, including prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, fever reducers, sleep aids and numerous cough, cold and flu medicines. It is safe and effective when used as directed, but there is a limit to how much can be taken in one day. Taking more than directed is an overdose and can lead to liver damage.

Safety campaign

With the start of cold season, the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition is launching a nationwide initiative urging consumers to double-check their medicine labels so they don't double up on medicines that contain acetaminophen during the cold and flu season. It's easy to do.

Each year, Americans catch an estimated one billion colds, and as many as 20 percent get the flu. Seven in 10 consumers use over-the-counter medicines, many of which contain acetaminophen, to treat their symptoms.

"Adults typically suffer from two to four colds per year, and children six to eight colds. During cold and flu season, consumers who are taking a prescription medicine that contains acetaminophen should also check the labels of any over-the-counter medicine they take," Dr. Angela Golden, President of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, said. "Many cold and flu medicines contain acetaminophen, so I remind my patients to always double-check the label so they don't exceed the daily limit when taking multiple medicines."

Safety steps

When taking medicines for cough, cold or flu this coming season, consumers should follow these four simple acetaminophen safety steps:

  • Know if medicines contain acetaminophen, which is in bold type or highlighted in the "active ingredients" section of over-the-counter medicine labels and sometimes listed as "APAP" or "acetam" on prescription labels.
  • Never take two medicines that contain acetaminophen at the same time.
  • Always read and follow the medicine label.
  • Ask your healthcare provider or a pharmacist if you have questions about dosing instructions or medicines that contain acetaminophen.
Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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