Playing It Safe: Acetaminophen Safe Use and Men’s Health Month

Playing It Safe: Acetaminophen Safe Use and Men’s Health Month

Author: Dr. Julius Johnson

I loved playing football as a kid, and as an adult I still enjoy spending weekends coaching my neighborhood’s youth football team, the Brooklyn Skyhawks. I also get my fair share of exercise by working out at home and playing with my daughter in the park. Sometimes I overdo it, and end up with aching muscles and joints after an ambitious workout.

Like many people, one of the first remedies I reach for is a cold pack and an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. It’s what I tell my patients to do – and most of the time, it does the trick. But it’s important to know what ingredients are in the OTC and prescription medicines you take, for pain and otherwise, and how to take them safely. The most common piece of advice I give, on and off the field, is not to overdo it. OTC medicines can have serious health consequences if not taken as directed.

Close up of a grandfather taking his granddaughter to play some basketball in the park

Pain Relief and Men’s Health

The sad truth is that men are in a lot of pain. In a nationwide survey, 65% of men reported that they experience ongoing pain, often for a year or longer, and many of them turn to OTC or prescription medicines for relief. During Men’s Health Month, the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition is urging men to take charge of their health and  take their medicines safely – especially if those medicines contain acetaminophen.

What Is Acetaminophen?

Most people don’t know that acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in America, found in more than 600 over-the-counter and prescription medicines – including many commonly-used pain relievers, cough, cold, and allergy medicines, sleep aids, and fever reducers. When used as directed, it’s safe and effective, but taking too much is an overdose and can lead to liver damage.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set a maximum daily dose of 4,000 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period.

Tips for Using Acetaminophen Safely

Follow these four steps to use acetaminophen safely:

  1. Always read and follow the dosing instructions on your label. Never take more medicine than directed by the label – this is an overdose, and it can lead to liver damage.
  2. Know if your medicines contain acetaminophen. If your OTC medicine contains acetaminophen, it will be highlighted in yellow on the label. It may sometimes be listed as “APAP” or “acetam” on prescription medications.
  3. Take only one medicine with acetaminophen at a time. You can take too much acetaminophen if you use more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen at the same time.
  4. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have questions about how to take your medicines safely.

The Endgame

In my dual roles as a family nurse practitioner and a coach, I try to guide men to make decisions that keep them healthy and safe. Men’s Health Month is the perfect time to put these safe use steps into practice, and start calling the plays on your own health.

To learn more about acetaminophen safe use, visit and follow @KnowYourDose on Twitter.

Dr. Julius Johnson

View posts by Dr. Julius Johnson
Dr. Julius Johnson is a clinical associate professor at the New York University Rory Meyers School of Nursing and teaches in the undergraduate, graduate, and doctor of nursing programs. He serves on the board of the directors for the National Black Nurses Association, is the immediate past president of the Greater NYC Black Nurses Association, and specializes in creating healthy equity through community interventions and translational science projects. In his spare time, he coaches tackle football for the Brooklyn Skyhawks, spends time with his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers, and is a loving father.

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