New guidelines highlight danger of paracetamol poisoning in children

New Australian Guidelines about paracetamol poisoning were recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia. 

It is sobering to think that doses of paracetamol as low as 200mg/kg in children under 6 years of age can cause irreversible liver damage.  Given that the average 2 year old boy in Australia weighs about 12kg, and most paracetamol tablets contain 500mg, he needs to consume only 5 tablets to be in trouble. We know that toddlers can unpack up to 85 tablets from a blister pack in under 10 minutes, so it is easy to see how as a parent or grandparent, a brief distraction can end in tragedy.

The guideline authors wrote:

“Paracetamol is the most widely used over-the-counter analgesic agent in the world. It is involved in a large proportion of accidental paediatric exposures and deliberate self-poisoning cases and is the leading pharmaceutical agent responsible for calls to Poisons Information Centres in Australia and New Zealand. Paracetamol is also the single most commonly taken drug in overdoses that lead to hospital presentation and admission.”

It is important to remember that paracetamol is a very safe drug in the correct doses, but that it needs to be kept safely stored away from young children, not left lying loose in handbags or on bench tops.

Dr Annette Katelaris

Reference: Medical Journal of Australia