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You Can Overdose On Over-the-Counter Pain Meds

What you should do if you're planning on taking several meds for a cold or the flu.

INDIANAPOLIS--If you get that familiar scratchy feeling in your throat, if you start feeling tired, rundown, feverish, stiff and you know you're going to be stuck in the bed for several days coughing, sneezing and feeling like-well, feeling rotten, then you're probably going to be going to the Meijer or CVS for some meds. 

It's called acetaminophen

One over-the-counter drug that's in a lot of products is acetaminophen, and too much of it can be dangerous, said Dr. Veronica Vernon, clinical pharmacy specialist, and member of American Pharmacists Association, Indianapolis. 

"It's a very common drug ingredient. It's in over 6,000 medications," said Vernon. It's the active ingredient in Tylenol, and it's a pain reliever. 


  • It can cause liver damage
  • Read the labels and make sure you don't get over 4,000 mg in a day
  • Take alternate meds for pain, if you're taking meds with acetaminophen for your cold symptoms

Read the labels

Whether it's a cold or the flu, Vernon said you should read the labels on your medicine and add up the doase you're getting. 

"The important thing is to make sure you're not taking more acetaminophen than you should, which is 4,000 mg in a 24-hour period, you're reading your label, you're making sure you're taking only one medication at a time that contains acetaminophen," said Vernon. 

The consequences

She said that an acetaminophen OD can, in rare cases, cause liver damage. 

"Unfortunately most people don't realize it right away because it's a gradual progression for acute liver failure. Most people are going to be going to the hospital because they don't feel well. They have severe abdominal pain." 

She said avoiding getting to that point is the best idea. If you have questions about having too much acetaminophen, ask your pharmacist. 

There are always alternatives

You can also take other medications for pain, if you're already taking meds for your cold symptoms. 

"Ibuprofen or Naproxen are great options for patients that are otherwise healthy and don't have any kidney issues or gastric ulcers," said Vernon.

PHOTO: Thinkstock/Sasha Suzie

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