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Expert: Cold Meds Can Be Dangerous

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: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
January 28, 2015

RENO, Nev. - Most adults in Nevada and across the nation will get one to three colds every year, and experts say there are some things to keep in mind before heading to the drugstore for treatment. Dr. Angela Golden, nurse practitioner and co-president with the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, says many cold medicines contain acetaminophen and only so much of it should be taken in one day.

"Acetaminophen, when taken at the levels that are safe, really helps with fever, body ache, sore throat, things like that," says Golden. "But when you take too much it's dangerous for the liver and if you take an overdose it can actually cause liver failure."

Four-thousand milligrams is the daily limit for acetaminophen. 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 says 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, but if there are children that are going to be in the house, keep that medicine up, away and out of sight so it's not tempting for children, because even the tamper-resistant lids children can get into," she says.

Use medicine sparingly with children, she says, and try saline sprays for nasal congestion and honey for a cough.

Most colds run their course in about a week, and 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.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NV