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Acetaminophen Poisoning

What is acetaminophen poisoning?

Acetaminophen is a medicine used to treat pain and fever. It is found in many medicines, such as Tylenol and cold and flu medicines. Acetaminophen poisoning happens when your child takes too much acetaminophen.

An overdose of this medicine can seriously damage the liver. If treated promptly, your child may recover with no long-term health problems. If liver damage is severe, your child may need a liver transplant.

What is the cause?

An overdose can happen if your child:

  • takes too much on purpose (suicide)
  • takes too much by accident (such as not measuring the correct dose or takes the medicine too often)
  • takes different medicines that all contain acetaminophen

What are the symptoms?

Your child may not have symptoms for several hours. Early symptoms may include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite

If not treated right away, symptoms may include:

  • pain in the upper right abdomen
  • diarrhea
  • coma
  • confusion
  • seizures

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will review symptoms, ask about your child’s medical history, and examine your child. Your child may have blood tests or urine tests. Your child will be tested to make sure that he did not take any other drugs along with the acetaminophen.

How is it treated?

If you think that your child has taken too much acetaminophen, call the poison control center at 800-222-1222 or get emergency medical care right away. Take the bottle with you.

Do not wait for a callback. Do not try to make your child vomit. Do not try to treat your child by yourself.

What can I do to prevent acetaminophen poisoning?

  • Many prescription and nonprescription medicines for pain, headache, and colds contain acetaminophen. Read the labels carefully to find out which may contain acetaminophen. It may also be called non-aspirin pain reliever. If you cannot tell if your child is taking more than the recommended dosage per day, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to review all of your child’s medicines.
  • If given correctly, this medicine is safe for infants and children. You need to give the dose based on your child’s weight, not your child’s age.
    • Give infants drops that are made just for infants. Use ONLY the dosing device that comes in the medicine package to give the correct dose of medicine. It is not safe to use a dropper from one bottle with a dropper from another bottle. The dosing isn’t always the same. Do NOT use a household teaspoon to give a dose.
    • You can give older children liquid or chewable tablets. Make sure they chew the tablets before swallowing to prevent choking. If you give your child meltaway tablets, make sure they dissolve in your child’s mouth before swallowing.
    • Do not give children more than directed.
Developed by RelayHealth
Pediatric Advisor 2012.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-01-11
Last reviewed: 2011-12-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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