Your Health: Warning for Colds and Flu

I was helping a friend yesterday whose child was ill.  At one point the child came to the mother because she was feeling poorly, and admitted taking some medication on her own while the mother was busy.  That’s the prompt for this post.influenza-virus-fulltext-sm

Acetaminophen is perhaps the most common active ingredient in cold and flu medications.  It is found in a wide range or products, including Tylenol, Excedrin and Sinutab.  Used according to instructions, it can be effective in treating symptoms.

However, acetaminophen has now surpassed hepatitis as the second leading cause of liver  failure in the US.  Overdose tends to produce few symptoms other than lethargy, but this can be followed by nausea and tenderness in the upper right section of the abdomen in 24 hours.  If untreated, organ failure can start after 72 hours, and can be fatal.

Minimum toxic doses of acetaminophen for a single ingestion, posing significant risk of severe hepatotoxicity, are as follows:

    • Adults: 7.5-10 g
    • Children: 150 mg/kg; 200 mg/kg in healthy children aged 1-6 years  [Medscape]

For treatment, the doctor needs to know what was taken (what medication containing acetaminophen was used), when it was taken, and how much was taken.

What you need to do:

  • Read the label.  Know what’s in what you take.
  • Be careful about using multiple products in combination.  If each contains acetaminophen, you can follow the directions for each and still end up with an overdoes.
  • If concerned about an overdose, call a medical professional. 


  • Susan E Farrell, MD, Germaine L Defendi, MD, MS, FAAP, Asim Tarabar, MD, “Acetaminophen Toxicity,” Medscape, 18 May 2016.
  • NIH US National Library of Medicine, “Acetaminophen,” MedlinePlus, 15 August 2014.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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