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Double check your medicine labels; don't double up on acetaminophen

BPT) - You know when cold and flu season has arrived. The temperature drops, and you can hear sniffles and sneezes everywhere you go. You see over-the-counter (OTC) medicine aisles at neighborhood pharmacies and grocery stores quickly fill with people buying cough syrup, throat lozenges, and nasal sprays to get relief from their fevers, coughs, congestion, and more.

Many of the medicines used to treat these cold and flu symptoms can contain common drug ingredients such as acetaminophen. Recent research shows that consumers don’t always know the potential risks of doubling dosing on medicine or that taking two medicines with the same ingredient could be harmful. That’s why it’s important to read and follow the label every time you take a medicine. Double Check; Don’t Double Up!

Acetaminophen is found in more than 600 OTC and prescription medicines, including many that treat cough, cold, and flu symptoms. It’s safe and effective when used as directed, but there is a limit to how much you can take in one day. Taking more than directed is an overdose and can lead to liver damage. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set a maximum daily dose of 4,000 milligrams of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period.

“If you catch a cold or the flu and are looking for a medicine to treat your symptoms, it’s important to know the ingredients in all of the medicines you are taking,” said Brian Hatten, MD. “Always double check your medicine labels to avoid doubling up on medicines containing acetaminophen.”

To help you ensure you are taking acetaminophen safely, the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition - a group of healthcare provider and consumer organizations dedicated to ensuring the safe use of acetaminophen - advises cold and flu sufferers to follow four safe use steps.

  1. Always read and follow the label. Never take more medicine than the label says. Taking more acetaminophen than directed is an overdose and can lead to liver damage.

  2. Know if your medicines contain acetaminophen. It is important to check the active ingredients listed on the labels of all your medicines to see if they contain acetaminophen. * On over-the-counter medicine labels, the word “acetaminophen” is written on the front of the package or bottle, and is highlighted or in bold type in the active ingredient section of the Drug Facts label. * On prescription medicine labels, acetaminophen is sometimes listed as “APAP,” “acetam,” or other shortened versions of the word.

  3. Take only one medicine at a time that contains acetaminophen. You can take too much acetaminophen if you use more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen at the same time.

  4. Ask your healthcare provider if you have questions about dosing instructions or medicines that contain acetaminophen.

For additional information and a list of some common medicines that contain acetaminophen, visit or follow @KnowYourDose on Twitter.

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