Acetaminophen Toxicity & Overdose

Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is a safe, effective pain reliever and fever reducer for children and adolescents. But giving your child more than the recommended dose can lead to acetaminophen toxicity, which can cause liver damage and even death if untreated. Among the signs of Tylenol overdose are nausea, vomiting, breathing problems and abdominal pain. These need immediate medical attention.


What is acetaminophen toxicity in children?

Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is a common over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever and fever reducer for both children and adults. With the right dose, acetaminophen is very safe. Healthcare providers often prescribe children acetaminophen for pain and fever reduction rather than aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare condition that affects your child’s brain and liver.

But if a person of any age takes more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen, the result can be acetaminophen toxicity. This is a dangerous situation. Your liver can’t process excessive doses of the medication. If your child takes too much acetaminophen (or takes the recommended amount for too long) toxins can build up in their body. This toxicity can cause vomiting, liver damage and death. It’s important to deal with the situation quickly.

What’s the correct children’s Tylenol dosage?

Every child’s dosage may be different. Among other factors, your child’s dosage depends on:

  • Their weight and age.
  • What form of acetaminophen they take (for example, liquid or pill).
  • What other medications your child may be taking.

You and your child’s healthcare provider will determine the right dose for your child.

Important: Remember that any other prescription and OTC medications (like cold medicines) also contain acetaminophen. Be sure to read the labels of cold, sinus and other OTC medicines carefully to see how much acetaminophen (if any) they contain.

Always note your child’s dosage when you give them acetaminophen.

How common is acetaminophen toxicity?

Acetaminophen overdoses and toxicity are common. Anyone can have an adverse reaction to an overdose of acetaminophen. Every year in the United States, about 50,000 emergency room visits are due to Tylenol overdose or acetaminophen toxicity. Acetaminophen poisoning is a common cause of liver damage (hepatotoxicity).

Certain groups of people are more vulnerable to liver damage than others. Children and adolescents who already have liver disease or hepatitis A, B, or C are more likely to have severe symptoms after taking too much acetaminophen. Their livers struggle to process the medication, which can lead to liver failure.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Symptoms and Causes

What causes acetaminophen toxicity in children?

Your child’s liver acts as a filter for their body. It processes drugs and detoxifies substances in their system. Your child’s liver can stop working if it processes (metabolizes) too much of a medicine or must metabolize it for too long. Acetaminophen toxicity occurs when your child:

  • Exceeds the recommended dosage or takes multiple doses too close together.
  • Takes the recommended amount too many days in a row.

What are the symptoms of acetaminophen toxicity in children?

Symptoms of acetaminophen overdose don’t appear right away. There may be no symptoms at all for up to 24 hours following an overdose. It’s important to note the time your child takes their acetaminophen, and in what form (liquid, tablet, capsule, time-release capsule/tablet) they took it.

Some symptoms of acetaminophen toxicity are:

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child and you suspect an acetaminophen overdose, call an emergency number or go to the nearest emergency room right away. Call your local emergency number (like 911), or your local poison control center, which can be reached through the U.S. national toll-free poison help hotline (1-800-222-1222).


What are the complications associated with acetaminophen toxicity?

An acetaminophen overdose is a life-threatening emergency. If it isn’t treated soon after the overdose, it can lead to:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is acetaminophen toxicity in children diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will examine your child and ask you questions about recent medications, like:

  • How much was ingested.
  • The approximate time it was taken.
  • The type of formulation (liquid, tablet, time-release capsule/tablet).

To confirm a diagnosis of an acetaminophen overdose, your child will have blood tests. These blood tests check:


Management and Treatment

What are the treatments for acetaminophen toxicity?

Treatment depends on when your child took the unsafe dose of acetaminophen. Based on when the overdose occurred, treatment may include:

  • Pumping their stomach: If the overdose happened less than 30 minutes before seeking treatment, healthcare providers might try to empty your child’s stomach using a tube inserted through their mouth. This procedure is called gastric lavage. It’s only effective immediately following the overdose.
  • Activated charcoal: Within four hours of the overdose, providers may give your child a substance called activated charcoal (a powder mixed into a liquid). Activated charcoal works by binding toxic chemicals in your child’s gastrointestinal tract. These chemicals then can pass through their intestines and exit their body without being absorbed.
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC): This medication can prevent liver damage after an acetaminophen overdose. It can’t reverse liver damage. Your child’s provider may give this medication by mouth or through a vein (IV). It’s most effective within eight hours of the acetaminophen overdose. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) can cause nausea and vomiting. Your child will need to take several doses of NAC over 72 hours. The dosage depends on the level of acetaminophen in your child’s blood.
  • Liver transplant: If liver damage is too severe, your child may need a liver transplant. Your child’s provider will explain the details of this process to you.


How can you prevent acetaminophen toxicity in children?

To prevent an acetaminophen overdose, follow dosage instructions carefully. Talk to your child’s provider about the right dose based on your child’s weight and age. Don’t give more than one product that contains acetaminophen at the same time.

Other ways to prevent acetaminophen toxicity include:

  • Keep medications out of reach. Store medicines away from children. Always make sure to close childproof lids.
  • Read labels. Don’t exceed dosage instructions. Some liquid forms of acetaminophen have different concentrations of the drug, so be sure to read the labeling for each product. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider if you have questions about how much to give.
  • Avoid a double dose. Many medications (like cold medicines) combine acetaminophen with other drugs. Read labels to see if acetaminophen is already in the medicine.
  • Follow your provider’s directions. Don’t give your child acetaminophen longer than their provider recommends. Don’t give doses too close together, and always follow dosage instructions. With the liquid form of the medicine, use the measuring device included with the package to give the correct dose.
  • Write dosage information down. Write down when you gave the medicine and how much you gave.
  • Measure out the medicine in a well-lit area. Don’t give medicine in a darkened room. It increases the risk of giving the wrong dose.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for children who have acetaminophen toxicity?

The outlook (prognosis) depends on how much acetaminophen your child took and how soon treatment started after the overdose. Children who receive fast treatment after acetaminophen poisoning have a much higher chance of recovering without long-term health problems, like liver damage.

Living With

When should I call a healthcare provider about acetaminophen toxicity?

Acetaminophen toxicity is a life-threatening emergency. If you believe your child has taken an unsafe dose of acetaminophen, you should call 911, go to the emergency room or immediately call a poison control center. If you don’t know the number, it can be reached through the U.S. national toll-free poison help hotline (1-800-222-1222).

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Healthcare providers consider acetaminophen (Tylenol) a safe and effective pain reliever and fever reducer for your child when taken according to package directions. But acetaminophen is a common ingredient in many medications, and it’s possible to give your child too much without realizing it. This can lead to a potentially dangerous situation. Tylenol overdose can lead to liver damage and even death. If you think your child may have accidentally taken too much acetaminophen, seek medical attention right away. Your child may not have symptoms, but it’s important to get help anyway.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/09/2024.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Call Appointment Center 866.320.4573
Questions 216.444.2200