Sometimes we do our homework, but most times we take them without a second thought. We don’t need a prescription to buy them so we assume that over-the-counter drugs are safe, right? Not always. While it’s true we can pick up headache, cold and flu medicine as easily as a loaf of bread, it’s our responsibility to learn as much as possible about the drugs we take. If we have questions, or if there are simply too many options available – ask the pharmacist. The pharmacist is usually happy to help sort through the possibilities. She can make recommendations depending upon our symptoms, tell us about drugs that shouldn’t be taken together and will also be able to caution us about possible side effects.
To get into the habit of doing our over-the-counter ‘drug research’, let’s zero in on Tylenol. How do we avoid problems and what should seniors know about Tylenol?
What is the active ingredient in Tylenol?
Tylenol is more precisely known as acetaminophen, and is used to reduce fever and ease physical pain and inflammation. Acetaminophen is frequently used to treat headaches, muscular aches, toothaches, backaches and arthritis. Acetaminophen may be abbreviated as APAP and if taken in conjunction with other medications, check the labels of all medicines carefully to be sure that you are not getting too much.
Is Tylenol safe?
The NHS (National Health Service) recommends that Tylenol should only be taken according to instructions on the packaging. Tylenol or acetaminophen may be unsafe in high doses, or if taken by a person with conditions (past or present) such as liver disease or if you are allergic. If you have had cirrhosis of the liver or drink more than three beverages containing alcohol per day you should probably not take acetaminophen.
How does Tylenol 2 differ from regular Tylenol?
Tylenol 2 is a combination of acetaminophen, caffeine and codeine. Caffeine – a stimulant, and codeine – a narcotic analgesic medication, act with acetaminophen in the form of Tylenol 2 to relieve pain. Tylenol 2 is used to relieve pain following an operation or an accident. It will also dull dental pain, headaches and menstrual pain. Tylenol 2 should be taken as instructed – consult with your doctor if fever lasts longer than 3 days and if pain persists for more than 5 days.
In recent years scientists are finding that acetaminophen may have an effect on emotional and mental health. In one study researchers from the University of British Columbia find that common feelings of anxiety may manifest themselves as physical pain. Acetaminophen seems to inhibit such messages from being translated by the brain in this way. Researchers also caution that more research is needed before Tylenol should be considered as a treatment for anxiety.
Specific notes for seniors
As we age, our bodies may react differently or experience increased sensitivity to acetaminophen than when we were younger. Because the liver and kidneys tend to work at a slower pace, medications may take more time to be absorbed and broken down and that means they are retained in the body longer. Other age related changes like weight loss, decreased fluids in the body or increased fatty tissue can also affect the way we respond to medications.
Remember, do as much research as you can about over-the-counter medications. When in doubt, consult with your physician and don’t be hesitant to ask the pharmacist for their advice. There are many medicines that contain acetaminophen therefore it’s wise to err on the side of caution when considering a new medication.