Tylenol is the popular brand name for an over-the-counter pain medication that contains acetaminophen. Many people keep a bottle on hand for minor aches and pain, but acetaminophen could be one of the most dangerous medicines available in stores. Surprised? You should be. Many people take Tylenol frequently without thinking about it. But it’s time to start thinking about the hazards of acetaminophen.
Dangers of Acetaminophen
Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of calls to Poison Control Centers. There are more than 100,000 instances per year. Acetaminophen overdose is responsible for more than and 56,000 emergency room visits, 2,600 hospitalizations, and over 450 deaths caused by acute liver failure.
The problem is, you may not be aware of how much acetaminophen is in your system. Even when you are taking the recommended dose, it can add up to a toxic amount when taken daily over the course of a couple weeks. That does not take into account the other medications you could be taking that also contain acetaminophen. Many prescription drugs and cold medications also contain the ingredient. It’s vitally important to read the label of all medications you are taking to ensure you aren’t getting too much.
Some people make a habit of consuming a small amount more than the recommended dose.
When you repeat this habit over the course of a couple days or weeks, it’s is even more dangerous than taking one large dose. This is known as staggered overdosing and it can cause serious damage and even death.
The liver is the primary victim of acetaminophen poisoning. In fact, acetaminophen poisoning is the cause of nearly half of all acute liver failure cases in the Unites States. Even the recommended dose of acetaminophen can cause liver damage when taken over several days or weeks. Not to mention taking more than the recommended dose, even as little as 25 percent more, can cause significant liver damage. Warnings on the risk of liver damage were finally added to the drug’s label in 2009, even though an FDA advisory panel recommended adding a warning as early as 1977!
When acetaminophen is combined with alcohol, the results on the kidneys are disastrous. In fact, the combination was found to raise the risk of kidney damage by 123 percent! Even with a small amount of alcohol, the kidneys cannot process the toxins of both alcohol and acetaminophen, causing damage and increased toxins in the body.
It is rare, but Tylenol is linked to severe skin reactions. Prescription products containing acetaminophen must carry a label warning of potential skin problems. The skin conditions related to acetaminophen include:
Acute Generalized Exanthematous Pustulosis (AGEP)
This condition causes pustules on the skin and it’s accompanied by a fever. AGEP resolves within two weeks after stopping acetaminophen.
Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS)
SJS begins with flu-like symptoms and it progresses to a red or purple rash. The rash blisters and sloughs off the top layer of your skin. It can lead to blindness, permanent skin damage, infections, and death.
Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TENS)
Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis also starts out with flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, body aches, and a headache, and it will eventually present as a blistering rash. With TENS, hair and nails can fall out and your skin might peel away in sheets. This condition is often fatal due to infections.
Even though these conditions are caused by taking medications that contain acetaminophen, it’s not exactly sure why they happen or why some people are more at risk than others. What is truly scary, though, is that they can happen at any time even if you’ve never had a reaction before.
4 Ways To Reduce Your Risk
- Do not combine more than one regular strength (325 mg) acetaminophen with a narcotic analgesic such as codeine or hydrocodone.
Combining acetaminophen with narcotic analgesics can cause significant bodily harm. Avoid certain prescription pain medications such as Vicodin and Percocet, which also contain acetaminophen and should not be combined with other acetaminophen medications.
- Do not take more than the prescribed dose of acetaminophen in a 24-hour time period.
There is very little benefit to taking more than 325 mg of acetaminophen, and the benefits do not outweigh the risks. This is particularly vital when you are giving medications to children. Always make sure you and your children are taking the appropriate dosage, and do not give children a dosage recommended for older children.
- Do not take more than one acetaminophen-containing product at once.
Anytime you are taking any acetaminophen-containing drug, you need to read the label to ensure you aren’t getting too much. It is a good idea to avoid prescription drugs that combine acetaminophen with other drugs. While most over the counter products have lowered their dosage to less than 325 mg, many prescription drugs still contain more.
- Do not drink alcohol while taking acetaminophen.
Drinking alcohol while taking Tylenol can significantly increase your risk of kidney dysfunction, even if the amount of alcohol is small. This risk is especially high for young adults who tend to consume alcohol in combination with Tylenol in an effort to combat hangovers.
Natural Pain-Relieving Alternatives
When you are addressing acute or chronic pain, there are many safer alternatives in both prescription and over-the-counter pain medications.
If you are dealing with chronic pain it is a good idea to make sure you are getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Omega-3s work to reduce pain-causing inflammation. For a healthy dose of omega-3, try taking krill oil or other fish oil supplements.
Vitamin D works in a variety of ways to reduce pain. To get an effective dose of vitamin D, you can take a supplement or get regular, safe sun exposure. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Reduce or Eliminate Sugars and Grains
You should work towards reducing or eliminating sugar and grains in your diet. These components cause elevated insulin and leptin levels which stimulate pain-inducing inflammation.
Tylenol Is More Toxic Than You Think
It is essential to remember that just because a drug is sold over the counter does not mean it is safe. Tylenol has been marketed as a safe and effective pain reliever, but it may not be as safe as people think. If you must take Tylenol, be sure to take the minimum dosage for the least amount of time possible.