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Expert: "Know Your Dose" Before Treating a Cold

PHOTO: While acetaminophen is helpful in treating some symptoms of a cold, medical experts say it can cause liver damage if not taken appropriately. Photo credit: Michelle Tribe/Wikimedia.
PHOTO: While acetaminophen is helpful in treating some symptoms of a cold, medical experts say it can cause liver damage if not taken appropriately. Photo credit: Michelle Tribe/Wikimedia.
December 16, 2014

CHICAGO - Most adults will get one to three colds every year, and experts say there are some things to keep in mind before heading to the drug store for treatment.

Dr. Angela Golden, co-president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, says many cold medicines contain acetaminophen - and only so much of it should be taken in one day.

"When taken at safe levels and reasonable dosage, acetaminophen really helps with fever, body ache, sore throat, things like that," says Golden. "But when you take too much it can be dangerous for the liver. If you overdose, it can actually cause liver failure."

The daily limit for acetaminophen is 4,000 milligrams. Golden says it's crucial to always read the label, know the proper dosage, and never take two medications with acetaminophen at the same time. She adds that other medications used to treat a cold also have potential risks: decongestants can raise blood pressure, and nighttime medications can cause drowsiness the next day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colds are the most common illness children experience. Golden says parents need to use medications for children as directed, and never give a child a medicine intended for adults. She says it's also important to keep all medications out of a child's reach.

"It's easy to think about just leaving that medicine on the counter for the next time you need it," says Golden. "But if there are children that are going to be in the house, keep medicine up away and out of sight so it's not tempting. Even children can get into the tamper-resistant lids."

Golden also says to use medicine sparingly with children, and try saline sprays for nasal congestion and honey for a cough.

While most colds run their course in about a week, Golden says parents should call their doctor if symptoms last more than 10 days or if a child has a fever higher than 100.4 degrees.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL