Acetaminophen is the most common medicine used for infants and children to treat pain and fever. You may know this medicine as Tylenol, but it is also widely sold under its generic name, acetaminophen. When used as directed, it is safe and effective. But giving your child more than directed is an overdose and can lead to liver damage.
There used to be two strengths of acetaminophen liquid—a higher strength (80 mg per 0.8 mL) of concentrated drops for infants and a lower strength of elixir for children (160 mg per 5 mL). After years of serious mix-ups between these two strengths, companies are now making just the lower strength (160 mg per 5 mL) of acetaminophen. But the older concentrated drops may still be in your medicine cabinet. A dosing error can happen if your child’s doctor gives you directions for using the new lower strength acetaminophen, but you are still using the old higher strength concentrated drops. Acetaminophen overdoses can lead to serious liver damage. To avoid errors, toss out acetaminophen drops in the higher strength (80 mg per 0.8 mL) and use only the new lower acetaminophen strength (160 mg per 5 mL).
Acetaminophen is also available in both OTC and prescription medicines, combined with other ingredients. This includes cough and cold medicines, allergy medicines, and sleep aids. On prescription labels, acetaminophen may be abbreviated as APAP, but it will never be abbreviated and will always say acetaminophen on OTC medicine labels. The “Active Ingredient” section of the Drug Facts label lists the ingredient or ingredients that make the medicine work. Acetaminophen will be listed here, either by itself or with other active ingredients in the product. It may be highlighted. Always check this section to see if your medicine contains acetaminophen.
Use only the dosing device provided with the purchased product in order to correctly measure the right amount of liquid acetaminophen. If your child’s medicine does not come with a measuring device, or if it comes with a dosing cup, ask your pharmacist to recommend an oral syringe to use. For children under 2 years of age, parents and caregivers must consult their healthcare provider for dosing instructions. The Drug Facts label on the packaging does not include dosing instructions for this age group. Your pediatrician can provide you with your child’s age and weight appropriate dose via a phone call or office visit.