Too much Tylenol can be a very dangerous thing, for kids and adults. So much so that the Food and Drug Administration is considering banning infant Tylenol as part of its efforts to reduce the risk of potentially fatal liver damage. But we parents can take steps on our own to make sure we're using Tylenol safely. For advice on how to reduce the risk of using this popular painkiller, I called Bernard Dreyer, a pediatrician who studies how parents use children's medications. Among his surprising discoveries: Those little plastic dosing cups that come with Tylenol are very hard to use accurately, and as a result, 5 to 10 percent of parents give twice as much of the medicine as called for. Yikes!
"Tylenol is a safe drug," Dreyer told me, "but like all medicine, it does have side effects." The most serious one is permanent liver damage, caused by repeated overdosing. (This is why an FDA advisory panel recently voted to ban Percocet and Vicodin, two popular adult painkillers that contain acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.) Here are five Tylenol take-homes I learned from Dreyer, who's a professor of pediatrics at the New York University School of Medicine:
I've often struggled to decipher the dosing instructions on children's medicines, particularly late at night when I'm tired, which is when many of us are called to duty as Dr. Mom and Dr. Dad. Dreyer tested pictogram labels and found they made it easier for parents to deliver the right dose. Let's hope the manufacturers pick up on that and make giving medicines safer.
Have you had trouble correctly dosing children's medicine? How do you think the packaging and measuring could be improved? Now's the time to speak up, when manufacturers are eager to make the FDA happy and keep their products on the market.