PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Do you know what ingredients are in your cold medicine?
Some contain acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol. Overdoses lead to 78,000 emergency room visits a year.
“Pretty much on a weekly or every couple day basis, we run into someone who’s overdosed on Tylenol, either accidentally or on purpose,” says Dr. P. S. Martin, an ER physician at Allegheny General Hospital.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent of the overdoses are suicide attempts, 15 percent are kids getting into pill bottles and the rest are young adults that take too much thinking they’ll get better pain relief.
“For some reason people think the more you take, the better it’s going to be, and it’s not like that,” says Dr. Martin.
In other cases, they are older adults taking combination products.
You can get this pain reliever and fever reducer as a single ingredient pill. But it’s also in over-the-counter cold medicines like Dristan and Comtrex, Triaminic, Theraflu and Sudafed. It’s also in prescription pain pills like Vicodin and Percocet.
Overdoses can happen easily in kids, especially if you aren’t using the standard dropper or cup that comes in the package. Using a spoon from your silverware drawer may give your child too much medicine.
For adults, the maximum recommended dose in a day is 4 grams. That’s only eight extra strength pills. And it’s not much more to become toxic — that is, to hurt your liver sometimes fatally.
“So if you’re looking at your average person, you’re looking at a 10 to 15 gram dose a day being absolutely toxic, that would be in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 pills,” explains Dr. Martin.
You can reverse the toxicity if it’s caught within eight hours, but that’s not so easy. Some people have belly pain, but some people have no symptoms at all.
“It’s very important to read the label on any medication that you take,” says pharmacist Gino Cordisco of Med-Fast Pharmacy. “Be aware of the amount you’re taking in a day, and never take more than the prescribed dosage in the package.”