It’s the season for sniffily noses, coughs and sneezes, so many people go straight to the local chemist to get back on the road to recovery. Paracetamol is prevalent in numerous over-the-counter medicines we use for colds, fevers, pains and headaches.
“There is a risk that people may be overexposed to paracetamol if they’re taking more than one product and they don’t realise that they all contain paracetamol,” says Andis Graudins, a professor from Monash University.
The Therapeutics Goods Administration says paracetamol is responsible for poisoning 8000 Australians each year who deliberately take the drug to overdose, but have no suicidal intent.
Graudins highlighted the effects in a recent study which found that modified-release tablets and larger packet sizes put patients who intentionally take more than the recommended dose at risk of overdose.
Dr Paul Jenkinson, a GP in Melbourne, says the most important thing is to not exceed the recommended dose, and even shy away from getting close to the recommended dose.
Adults should take 1 gram (1000 milligrams) per dose and 4 grams (4000 mg) per day.
If you drink more than three alcoholic drinks a day the recommended dose is 2 grams (2000 mg) a day.
For children, the recommended dose depends on weight and per kilogram only 15 mg of paracetamol should be taken once every 4 hours, and up to 4 times a day if needed.
Monitor your intake
Both Graudnis and Jenkinson stressed the importance of monitoring your daily intake of paracetamol if you’re taking numerous kinds of medicines.
If you want to know the components of over-the-counter drugs, you should read the packaging or ask your chemist how much paracetamol is in each medicine you’re buying.
People must also remember not to take too many pills or liquids containing paracetamol if they feel like the medicine they’re taking isn’t working.
“You should go to your doctor if the medicine isn’t working and to also make sure you’re not taking a combination of drugs which will cause you to overdose and reach toxic levels in your blood stream,” Jenkinson said.
The New Daily suggests you remain vigilant when taking certain “fast-acting” medicines, because they enter the blood stream more quickly and may speed up the process if you overexpose yourself to paracetamol.
Symptoms of overdose
There are a number of signs to look out for if you are experiencing a paracetamol overdose.
The most dangerous effect could lead to acute liver failure and if untreated could lead to death.
Some of the symptoms include:
• Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
• Loss of coordination
• Low blood sugar, which results in sweating, trembling and irritability
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms go immediately to the closest hospital, because the only thing that can reverse the overdose is acetylcysteine, a powerful antioxidant.
The antidote must be taken within a three-day window of the first signs of overdose.