It's the middle of the night, and your child has a fever or is in pain. They can't sleep and neither can you. Can you give them acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol) to help them feel more comfortable? As with all medicines, there's not an absolute yes or no, but before you give your child Tylenol, here are five things you should know.
1. For Young Children, Check With Your Doctor
If your child has a fever, you may be tempted to administer medicine to lower it. However, if your child is younger than 3 months old, they should be seen by a doctor first because fevers in young babies can be serious. If your child is under 2 years old, check with your doctor before giving Tylenol to be on the safe side.
If your child still has pain or fever after a few doses of Tylenol, and you're concerned, speak with your pediatrician to see if your child needs to be evaluated or if it's OK to continue giving the Tylenol.
2. Dose Matters
It's vital that you follow the instructions on the label when giving your child Tylenol. Unlike Tylenol for adults, pediatric doses are based on the child's size and age. In addition, there are several different children's formulations with differing concentrations. For example, liquid Tylenol that's meant to be given by dropper is not the same as liquid Tylenol given by teaspoon. Read the label closely.
If you're using liquid Tylenol, do not use a regular kitchen measuring spoon. These aren't accurate enough for medications of any type, including Tylenol. Ask your pharmacist what measuring tool is best. It could be a little cup or dropper that comes with the Tylenol or a needleless syringe that you can use to squirt the medicine into your child's mouth.
3. Be Sure the Tylenol Is for Children
It's easy to pick up the wrong bottle when you're stressed and your child is sick. When you want to give your child Tylenol, take a good look at the bottle. Make sure it says that it's children's Tylenol, not the one for adults.
4. Double-Check Other Medicines
If you've already given your child a cold or flu medicine, you may have already given them acetaminophen. It's a common ingredient in those medicines, so check the ingredient list. If there's acetaminophen in the medication, don't follow up with Tylenol. Otherwise, your child will receive too high a dose.
5. Keep a Record
Keeping a record of how much Tylenol you give your child is important, especially if you're not the only caregiver. Someone else — the other parent, a grandparent, a babysitter — may think to administer Tylenol, not realizing that you've already given a dose. Keeping a sheet of paper on the fridge or somewhere visible, listing the time and the dose you administered, can help reduce the risk of double dosing.
Tylenol is an over-the-counter medication, but like all medicines, it must be used with caution. By taking these simple steps, and consulting with your pediatrician, you can help your child feel better while reducing the risk of errors.