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Nonprescription Medication Overdose in Children


A nonprescription medication overdose occurs when more medicine is taken than is safe to take. Nonprescription medicine is also called over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. A prescription is not needed to buy OTC medicine. OTC medicine is generally safe for your child when it is taken correctly. A medicine overdose may be mild, or it may be a life-threatening emergency.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that your child may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your child's medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done to your child. Make sure all of your questions are answered.

Intake and output

may be measured. Healthcare providers will keep track of the amount of liquid your child is getting. They also may need to know how much your child is urinating. Ask healthcare providers if they need to measure or collect your child's urine.


is a small tube placed in your child's vein that is used to give medicine or liquids.

Your child may need extra oxygen

if his blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. Your child may get oxygen through a mask placed over his nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in his nostrils. Ask your child's healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

Vital signs:

Healthcare providers will check your child's blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask you or your child about his pain. These vital signs give information about your child's current health.

A nasogastric (NG) tube

may be guided from your child's nose to his stomach. The tube may be attached to suction to remove the medicine from your child's stomach. Your child may also be given medicine through this tube, such as activated charcoal.


  • Blood gases are also called arterial blood gases (ABGs). Blood is taken from an artery, usually in your child's wrist. ABGs may be done if your child has trouble breathing or other problems caused by his illness.
  • Blood tests may be needed to give healthcare providers more information about your child's condition. Your child may need to have blood drawn more than once. If you do not know which medicine your child took, blood tests may be able to show which medicine is in his body. Your child's healthcare provider may also do blood tests to check your child's liver.
  • An EKG test records your child's heart rhythm and how fast his heart beats. It is used to check for changes or problems in different areas of the heart.

Treatment for a mild nonprescription medication overdose:

  • Activated charcoal is a medicine that may be in the form of a powder or liquid. Healthcare providers may give activated charcoal to your child if he has swallowed too much medicine. Activated charcoal helps soak up the medicine that is still in your child's stomach. Your child may vomit when given activated charcoal.
  • Emetics are medicines that cause your child to vomit. Vomiting may help remove the medicine from your child's stomach, so less is absorbed by his body.
  • Gastric lavage is sometimes called having your stomach pumped. Healthcare providers clean out your child's stomach to get rid of as much medicine as they can.
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an antidote. It stops the effect of some types of medicine, such as acetaminophen, in your child's body. NAC may prevent some of the problems caused by your child's overdose. It can be given as medicine that your child swallows or through an IV.

Treatment for a severe or life-threatening nonprescription medication overdose:

  • Anticonvulsants are given to stop seizures that may be caused by a medicine overdose.
  • Sedatives may help keep your child calm and relaxed if he is upset or agitated (easily angered).
  • Vasopressors help constrict (narrow) the blood vessels and increase your child's blood pressure. These may be needed if the medicine overdose caused your child's blood pressure to go lower than it should.
  • A ventilator is a machine that gives your child oxygen and breathes for him when he cannot breathe well on his own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your child's mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. He may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into his windpipe.
  • A liver transplant may be needed if your child's liver is badly damaged by a medicine overdose. This is surgery to replace your child's damaged liver with a healthy donor liver.


High doses of OTC medicine may be very harmful to your child. Large amounts of acetaminophen may cause liver damage and liver failure. An overdose of cough and cold medicine may cause seizures and other life-threatening side effects. An overdose of NSAIDs may cause stomach bleeding. Alcohol is used in some OTC medicines. If your child has an overdose of OTC medicine, he may also have an alcohol overdose. Alcohol overdose may increase the chance of liver damage and stomach bleeding.


You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Nonprescription Medication Overdose in Children (Inpatient Care)

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Further information

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