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Be cautious about taking Tylenol (acetaminophen), a popular pain reliever right now | READER COMMENTARY

This Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 photo shows tablets of ibuprofen in New York. In late March 2020, the World Health Organization and other leading agencies say there is no evidence to support the suggestion that taking ibuprofen might worsen the symptoms of COVID-19 but that possibility has nonetheless pushed up Tylenol sales.
This Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 photo shows tablets of ibuprofen in New York. In late March 2020, the World Health Organization and other leading agencies say there is no evidence to support the suggestion that taking ibuprofen might worsen the symptoms of COVID-19 but that possibility has nonetheless pushed up Tylenol sales.(Patrick Sison/AP)

Another item quickly makes its way to the list of sold out items: Tylenol. Tylenol (also known as acetaminophen) is an over-the-counter medication used for pain relief and fever that can be easily obtained from local pharmacies and grocery stores. However, the demand for the drug has skyrocketed recently.

The medication started to receive global spotlight after France’s minister of health, Olivier Veran, stated that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil (ibuprofen) may worsen COVID-19 (“Tylenol, soup and rest can treat most symptoms of coronavirus (whether you have it or not),” March 22). The statement was partially based on a short letter published in The Lancet, a medical journal, which hypothesized that taking ibuprofen could make certain individuals more vulnerable to infection.

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However, there has been lack of clarity and mixed information, confusing consumers on what to do. Therefore, as a pharmacist, I would like to share some practical tips about Tylenol for you to consider before you purchase. First, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is not for everyone. If you have pre-existing medical conditions or if you are taking other medications, consult with your health care professional prior to use. In particular, if you have history of liver disease, talk to your health care professional before you purchase Tylenol and ask whether the medication is right for you.

Second, everything has its limit. If you take more than the recommended amount, Tylenol can cause adverse events, some more severe than others. So, stick to the directions on the label, and take as directed by your health care professional.

Third, don’t be confused by the name. Different Tylenol products contain different ingredients that may not be needed for the symptoms you are trying to treat. For example, Tylenol Cold + Flu Severe contains a decongestant and an expectorant on top of acetaminophen. Also, a lot of cold & flu products such as Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil also contain acetaminophen which is the same active ingredient as Tylenol. So, be cautious not to go over the maximum daily recommended dose and please take time to read drug facts.

Fourth, when brand-name products are sold out, generics can be an option. Generic drugs and brand-name drugs have the same ingredients and safety/efficacy profiles. Therefore, if you see that brand-name Tylenol is sold out, consider generic versions.

Fifth, be careful with self-care. In most situations, it is perfectly appropriate to self-manage your symptoms whether it be mild pain and/or fever. However, if your symptoms don’t get better or get worse, talk to your health care professional immediately.

And, finally, when in doubt, ask your health care professional. It is possible that Tylenol may interact with medications you are already taking. If you feel overwhelmed with information or if you would just like to clarify, ask your health care professionals: doctors, pharmacists, nurses, etc. It is always better to prevent adverse events and medication errors than to try to treat them after they occur.

Kyungwan Hong, Baltimore

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