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Paracetamol

What is paracetamol?

Paracetamol is a painkiller, but it can also lower a high temperature (fever). It is available as a liquid and tablets and comes in various different brand names.

  • Liquids. There are various brands such as Calpol® and Disprol®. There are usually 120 mg in each 5 ml teaspoon. Calpol SixPlus® is intended for older children and has 250 mg in each 5 ml.
  • Tablets. Many companies make their own brand name. You pay a lot for packaging. Ask the pharmacist for the cheapest. Each tablet usually contains 500 mg. You can also get soluble tablets which may work more quickly.

As pain and fever are common, no home should be without some paracetamol, particularly homes with children. It is often in the middle of the night when fever or pains such as earache occur.

What is the dose of paracetamol?

Please see the table below for all the recommended doses of paracetamol.

Adults 500-1000 mg each dose (1-2 tablets)
Age 12-16 years 500-1000 mg each dose (1-2 tablets)
Age 10-12 years 500 mg each dose
Age 8-10 years 375 mg each dose
Age 6-8 years 250 mg each dose
Age 4-6 years 240 mg each dose
Age 2-4 years 180 mg each dose
Age 6-24 months 120 mg each dose
Age 3-6 months 60 mg each dose
Age 2-3 months 60 mg once. A second dose of 60 mg may be given after four hours

Adults and children over three months old can take paracetamol up to four times a day, every 4-6 hours. If you have pain all the time then you should take paracetamol regularly (four times a day).

If you need to give babies younger than three months old more than two doses of paracetamol, contact your doctor immediately for advice.

What if I am taking other medication?

It is usually safe to take paracetamol with other medication. For example, if a child is taking antibiotics for an ear infection, keep giving paracetamol as well until the pain and fever ease. Be careful not to take too much paracetamol by taking paracetamol tablets or liquids in addition to other remedies that already contain paracetamol. (For example, some cold remedies contain several ingredients which include paracetamol.)

What are the side-effects of paracetamol?

Paracetamol is a safe medicine and side-effects are rare if you do not take more than the maximum recommended dose. However, paracetamol can be very dangerous if you take too much (overdose).

Paracetamol overdose

Overdoses of paracetamol can happen by mistake, but some people intentionally take an overdose. The main problem with taking an overdose of paracetamol is that it can damage your liver permanently and you can die from this.

How badly your liver is damaged depends on how much paracetamol you take. If you take a large overdose it does not have an immediate effect and you may feel fine for a while (you don’t realise that your liver is damaged). But the overdose can kill you slowly over several days/weeks as the liver stops working and you develop liver failure. If you go to your doctor early enough there is a medicine that can be given to stop the paracetamol from damaging your liver and stop you from dying.

Sometimes you can take too much paracetamol but you do not realise that you are doing this. For example, if you are in a lot of pain (toothache, or migraine) and you take one or two tablets more than is recommended.

You should also be aware of other medicines that you can buy from the pharmacy or supermarket that may also contain paracetamol. Be careful not to take these on top of regular paracetamol or you may take too much and not realise it. This can happen if you have a cold or flu and are taking paracetamol tablets and you buy other medicines from the pharmacy or supermarket (for example, Lemsip®, or Beechams® Powders).

If you think you have taken too much paracetamol contact your doctor immediately.

Always store paracetamol and other medicines away from children (ideally in a locked cupboard).

Some tips for children who may refuse medicine from a spoon

  • Use a syringe to squirt paracetamol liquid slowly into the side of the child’s mouth. You can get syringes from pharmacies. It is worth keeping a syringe in your medicine box for such occasions. Do not squirt into the back of the child’s mouth as this may cause choking.
  • Another option is to use soluble paracetamol mixed with a drink.

Can I buy paracetamol?

Yes – you can buy paracetamol liquid and tablets from your pharmacist and from the supermarket.

How to use the Yellow Card Scheme

If you think you have had a side-effect to one of your medicines, you can report this on the Yellow Card Scheme. You can do this online at the following web address: http://yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk

The Yellow Card Scheme is used to make pharmacists, doctors and nurses aware of any new side-effects that your medicines may have caused. If you wish to report a side-effect, you will need to provide basic information about:

  • The side-effect.
  • The name of the medicine which you think caused it.
  • Information about the person who had the side-effect.
  • Your contact details as the reporter of the side-effect.

It is helpful if you have your medication and/or the leaflet that came with it with you while you fill out the report.

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