How to Safely Give Acetaminophen
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How to Safely Give Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen (uh-see-tuh-MI-nuh-fen) is an over-the-counter medicine taken to relieve fever and pain. It's a safe drug when used correctly for a wide variety of problems. But too high a dose can make a child very sick. Giving too much can lead to liver damage and, in rare cases, even death. So it's important to know how to properly give acetaminophen.

If you have any questions about giving acetaminophen to your child, ask your doctor or pharmacist. Never give this or any other kind of medicine to a child younger than 2 years old without getting a doctor's OK first.

What Is Acetaminophen Also Called?

Acetaminophen is the generic name of this drug. In some other countries, acetaminophen is known as paracetamol. Many generic brands of acetaminophen are available.

The most common brand name for this medicine is Tylenol®, but it is also sold under the names Panadol®, FeverAll®, and Tempra®.

What Types of Acetaminophen Are Available?

For kids, this medicine is available in oral suspensions (liquid form) and also chewable tablets. Chewable tablets are best for children 6 years of age and older. Rectal suppositories (FeverAll® or Tempra®) are available for children who have trouble taking medicine by mouth or can't keep medicines down due to vomiting.

Tylenol® makes Infants' Tylenol® ("drops") and Children's Tylenol® oral suspensions, as well as Jr. Tylenol® chewable tablets. Many generic brands of acetaminophen are available in similar forms.

Tylenol® and other brands that make infant drops used to offer them in a more concentrated formula, which was 80 mg/0.8 ml per dose. These drops were taken off the market because babies were getting sick after parents mistakenly gave too much medicine while using kitchen teaspoons or measuring cups from Children's Tylenol®. If you have Infants' Tylenol® or a similar product in the 80 mg strength, throw it away and do not give it to your child. The new infant drops have the same concentration as Children's Tylenol® (160 mg/5 ml per dose).

Giving Acetaminophen

Refer to the following dosage charts for the correct dosage of acetaminophen.

Other things to know:

  • Check the expiration date to make sure it's not expired. If it is, throw the medicine away and buy a new product. For proper disposal, remove the medicine from its original container and place it in an undesirable substance that children or animals wouldn't be tempted to eat, like coffee grounds or kitty litter. Then, put it in a sealable bag inside a garbage can.
  • Make sure your child isn't already taking medicines with acetaminophen in them. Acetaminophen is a very common ingredient in cough, cold, and allergy medicines. If your child is taking one, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before giving your child more acetaminophen. Too much acetaminophen can damage a child's liver.
  • Check the concentration and recommended dosage. Give your child a dose from the dropper, syringe, or cup that came with the product. This will help ensure that your child gets the right amount of milliliters, or ml (also called cc, or cubic centimeters), and doesn't overdose. Never use a measuring spoon from the kitchen or a cup or dropper from a different product. Chewables are not recommended for children younger than 2 years old due to the risk of choking.
  • When giving for a fever, consider the child's temperature and age. If you have an infant 3 months or younger with a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, call your doctor or go to the emergency department immediately. If your child is between 3 months and 3 years old and has a fever of 102.2°F (39°C) or higher, call your doctor to find out if he or she needs to see your child.
  • If your child spits up or vomits up a dose of acetaminophen within the first 20 minutes, it's usually safe to give your child another dose (check with a doctor if you're unsure). If your child holds the first dose down for longer than 20 minutes before spitting up, you should wait 4 hours or more before giving your child another dose.
  • Give acetaminophen every 4 to 6 hours as needed, but never give your child more than five doses in 24 hours.
  • If your child doesn't like the flavor, you can try a product with a different flavoring.
  • If your child is sensitive to dyes, use a dye-free type of acetaminophen.

Acetaminophen Dosages By Weight

Doctors recommend using a child's weight instead of age when figuring out how much medicine to give. Before giving your child a dose, check the label to make sure the recommended dosage and concentration agree with the numbers below.

This table is based on doctors' and the manufacturers' recommendations. It is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. If your child is 2 years old or younger, get the OK from your health care professional before giving the medicine. And always call if you have any questions or concerns about giving medicine.

Weight    Acetaminophen Liquid
  (160 mg/5 ml)
6-11 lbs.
(0-3 months)
   Ask your doctor
12-17 lbs.
(4-11 months)
   Ask your doctor
18-23 lbs.
(12-23 months)
   Ask your doctor
24-35 lbs.
(2-3 years)
   1 teaspoon (5 ml, or full 5-ml dosing syringe)
36-47 lbs.
(4-5 years)
   1½ teaspoons (7.5 ml)
48-59 lbs.
(6-8 years)
   2 teaspoons (10 ml)
60-71 lbs.
(9-10 years)
   2½ teaspoons (12.5 ml)
72-95 lbs.
(11 years)

   3 teaspoons (15 ml)

Weight       Acetaminophen Jr. Strength Chewables
     (160 mg)
24-35 lbs.
(2-3 years)
    1 tablet
36-47 lbs.
(4-5 years)
    1½ tablets
48-59 lbs.
(6-8 years)
     2 tablets
60-71 lbs.
(9-10 years)
     2½ tablets
72-95 lbs.
(11 years)
     3 tablets

Date reviewed: October 2018