How to Give Your Child Acetaminophen

When your child has aches and pains or spikes a fever, many parents reach for over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. One of the most popular OTC medicines parents often use for kids is acetaminophen. That’s the active ingredient in Tylenol.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says acetaminophen is safe for kids and adults. But always talk to your doctor before giving your child a new medicine.

Following label directions and a few other steps is important when giving your child acetaminophen. Here’s what you need to know about giving kids Tylenol and other acetaminophen products.

What Is Acetaminophen?

Acetaminophen is an analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (fever reducer). Taking Tylenol lowers your body’s set temperature and changes how you feel pain.

What can you use it for in kids?

You can give your child acetaminophen for mild to moderate pain or fever caused by the following:

  • Backaches.
  • Headaches.
  • Menstrual cramps.
  • Joint aches and pains from juvenile arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. However, Tylenol does not reduce joint swelling.
  • Muscle aches and strains.
  • Sore throat.
  • Toothaches.
  • Viral infections, such as the common cold or the flu.

You can also give your child acetaminophen after they get a vaccine. This can reduce soreness and pain from the shot.

Types of acetaminophen

Tylenol is the brand name of acetaminophen that many people know. Many pharmacies and other retailers also sell generic acetaminophen. They work the same as the brand name version but often cost less.

Acetaminophen for kids comes in many forms. These include:

  • Chewable or melting tablets.
  • Dissolve packs. You add these powered versions of Tylenol to water or juice.
  • Liquids or suspensions.
  • Suppositories. You give this medicine rectally for kids who can’t or won’t take pills or liquids by mouth.

What form you give your child will depend on your child’s age and whether they have difficulty swallowing. Unless your child’s doctor tells you otherwise, you should only give infants or babies acetaminophen as a liquid or suspension.

Children who weigh more than 48 pounds and are at least 6 years old can take 325 mg of regular-strength Tylenol. These come in liquid gels or tablets. Ensure they’ve learned to swallow pills whole before giving them these medicines.

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General Dosage Guidelines for Acetaminophen

Doctors consider acetaminophen safe for most children ages 2 and older. But there are some general guidelines you should follow when giving your kids Tylenol.

Tell your doctor if you’re giving your child acetaminophen.

Before giving your child any medicine, check with your child’s doctor. They can tell you whether acetaminophen is the right medicine for your child. Never give your infant any Tylenol without talking to their doctor.

If you are taking your child in for a sick child visit, wait to see their doctor before giving them Tylenol. Their doctor can take your child’s latest weight for more accurate dosing. Depending on how sick your child is, they may prescribe a different medicine that already contains Tylenol.

Don’t give your child more than one product containing acetaminophen or Tylenol

Giving your child too much Tylenol can damage their liver. That’s why it’s vital to check any medicines you give your kids to make sure you’re not double-dosing. If you give cough medicine with acetaminophen or Tylenol to reduce fever, for example, you may accidentally cause an overdose.

Acetaminophen is often an active ingredient in many other medicines. Other names for it are paracetamol and N-acetyl-p-aminophenol (APAP).

Acetaminophen is in:

  • Certain allergy medicines.
  • Antihistamines.
  • Decongestants.
  • Cold and flu products.

Other medicines that contain acetaminophen include:

  • Percocet.
  • Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold & Sinus.
  • Dayquil.
  • Excedrin.

Don’t give your child Tylenol or acetaminophen if they have any liver issues

Ask your child’s doctor before giving Tylenol if your child has any liver issues, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The doctor can decide whether it’s safe for your child to use. They may suggest a different medicine.

Check the expiration date

Throw out any expired medicine. For safe medicine disposal, put it in kitty litter or a sealed bag in the trash.

Use the dropper, syringe, or cup that came with the medicine

Never use household spoons to give your child liquid medicine. It can lead you to give too much or too little.

Follow the dosage guidelines listed on the label

When giving children Tylenol, many doctors recommend going by your child’s weight. Ask your doctor if you’re unsure how much medicine to give for your child’s weight and age.

Wait the recommended time (typically 4-6 hours) before giving another dose. Never give your child more than 5 doses in 24 hours.

Dispose of higher-strength infant drops.

The FDA removed a higher-strength formulation of acetaminophen infant drops from the market. Babies were getting sick when their parents accidentally gave them too much. It was too easy to overdose accidentally.

Infant Tylenol is now the same strength as children’s Tylenol (160 mg/5ml). If you have infant acetaminophen drops in the 80 mg/0.8ml strength, even if they aren’t expired, throw them out. Don’t give these to your child.

How to give acetaminophen to babies

Some parents may wonder: Is Tylenol safe for babies?

Tylenol is safe for children when you choose the right type for their age and follow the dosing guidelines. For example, don’t give young babies chewables, gelcaps, or tablets — they could be a choking hazard.

Infant Tylenol dosage guidelines

But you should never give babies acetaminophen, even if labeled for infant use, without checking with their doctor first.

All Tylenol products made for infants or children have the same acetaminophen strength. Each tablet, pack, or 5ml liquid dose corresponds to 160 mg of acetaminophen.

Here are the dosing guidelines for Tylenol’s Infants’ Oral Suspension (160mg/5ml).

Weight (lbs) Age in years Dosing per 4 hours
Less than 24 lbs Less than 2 years Check with your doctor
Between 24 to 35 lbs Between 2 years to 3 years 5 ml liquid every 4 hours

Dissolvable packets of acetaminophen for children come at 160 mg per packet. But they also come as extra-strength versions for adults (500 mg per packet). Check the dosage of your packet carefully before giving it to your child.

Chewable or meltaway acetaminophen is typically 160 mg per pill. This is equivalent to a 5 ml liquid dose. You may find 80 mg doses as well.

Acetaminophen suppositories typically come as:

  • 80 mg for kids 6 to 36 months.
  • 120 mg for kids 3 to 6 years.
  • 325 mg for kids 6 to 12 years.

Talk to your child’s doctor about using acetaminophen suppositories if your child resists taking medicines by mouth.

The Dangers of Too Much Tylenol

Acetaminophen is safe for children when given as directed. Too much at once or too many doses in 24 hours can damage the liver and cause liver failure. These may require a liver transplant or even lead to death.

If you keep medicine within easy reach, children may take acetaminophen on accident, thinking it’s candy. To prevent accidental overdose in children, always lock your medicine cabinets. Keep your medicine in the original child-proof packaging or a locked container.

Warning signs of an overdose

Warning signs that your child may have taken too much Tylenol include:

  • Extreme tiredness.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Pain in the upper right part of their stomach.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea.
  • Sweating.
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising.
  • Yellowing of their skin or eyes.
  • Vomiting.

When to get medical help

If your child takes too much acetaminophen, even if they don’t have any symptoms, get medical help right away. If you suspect an overdose, call the poison control helpline at 1-800-222-1222. Call 911 if your child collapses, has a seizure, has trouble breathing, or if you can’t wake them.

Call your doctor if the Tylenol does not help reduce your child’s aches, pains, or fever. They can help figure out what’s going on to best help your child.

Pay attention to your child’s fever. Call your doctor if:

  • A baby 3 months or younger has a rectal temperature of 100.4 or higher. If your doctor isn’t around, go to the emergency room.
  • A child 3 months to 3 years old has a fever of 102.2 or higher.

Acetaminophen. Link.

Acetaminophen. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. National Library of Medicine. Link.

JIA Medications Overview. Arthritis Foundation. Link.

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