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Cough & Cold Season Caution

Beware of multiple Ingredients

During the cold winter months when people spend more time together indoors, there is an increase in illnesses such as the flu, COVID-19, and the common cold. The symptoms people have when sick often leads them to their medicine cabinet or the store in search of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine for relief. With the huge variety of OTC options available, it is easy to choose multiple medicines to treat symptoms and end up taking too much of the same ingredient such as acetaminophen.

Acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the United States and is found in over 600 different OTC and prescription medicines. It is sold as a single active ingredient in products such as Tylenol®, and is also found along with other ingredients in cough and cold medicines, sleep aids, allergy medicines, fever reducers, and pain relievers. When used correctly, acetaminophen can be safe and effective, but there is a limit to how much can be safely taken in one day.

Taking more than one acetaminophen containing product at the same time, whether an OTC medicine or prescription medicine can lead to an overdose. This can cause liver damage or even death. Because acetaminophen is found in so many products, people might take too much without even realizing it. For example, if a person taking an OTC medicine containing acetaminophen to treat symptoms of the common cold, also decides to take a product such as Tylenol® to treat their pain, they are getting too much acetaminophen. To prevent dosing errors, follow these tips to help keep you and your family safe.

  • Check the label to see if your medicine has acetaminophen in it.
  • Read and follow directions on the medicine label including recommended dose. 
  • Never take two medicines that contain acetaminophen at the same time.
  • For liquid medicine, use the dosing spoon or cup that comes with the product rather than utensils or measuring spoons from the kitchen.
  • Don’t give children medicine meant for adults.
  • Keep medication up and away from children.
  • Talk with your doctor, pharmacist or a specialist at the poison control center if you have questions about medicine.

If you or someone else takes too much acetaminophen or any other medication, call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Pharmacists and nurses will answer the phone and help you know what to do next. It’s free, confidential and available anytime…day or night.


  1. FDA

Author: Sherrie Pace, MS, MCHES®, Outreach Education Manager, Utah Poison Control Center