Toddler paracetamol (Calpol) overdose

Scary few hours last night. I’m posting this up as a warning to others and in case the info is useful.

Last night Bub (who is 34 months) just wouldn’t settle to sleep. He’s been really good for months but last night just wouldn’t drop off and was instead pottering about his room for ages. His room is like a monastery, barely anything in there. But he does have a chest of drawers (handles removed) and the top drawer has a few things in it like nappy cream and Calpol.

Last night Bub managed to open that top drawer and get out the Calpol. I found him sat on his bed, holding an empty, lidless bottle. He’d spilt a bit on his sleeping bag and a bit on his mattress but most had been drunk. I reckon about three quarters of a 100ml bottle.

We weren’t really sure what to do but a quick google search showed that this could be very serious. We jumped into the car and headed to the Accident & Emergency department. Luckily it’s only a few minutes away.

It was a Saturday night around 11pm when we arrived. It’s fair to say we had to wait around a long time. Fortunately they had a pretty good children’s waiting room with lots of toys.

After an hour we saw the triage team who took all the info, weighed Bub and checked his pulse. Then it was back to the waiting room for another long wait.

The NHS care was fab, but the communication not so great. I guess in a busy A&E on a Saturday night this is to be expected. It turns out they needed to do a blood test to check the paracetamol level. But this can’t be done until at least four hours after ingestion. If someone had told me this I’d probably have popped Bub in the car seat, whizzed him twice round the block, and let the poor lad have some sleep. But as it was we thought we were to be seen ‘shortly’ and that he’d probably be better off staying awake. Poor lad, it was about 2.15am before we finally saw the doctor. Bub was still lively though, very wired. He did amazingly well given how late it was.

The doctors put some cream on his arm to numb it and about fifteen minutes later we went through for a blood test. They took the blood from his hand which he didn’t like and neither did I. I’m not squeamish but seeing your two year old have blood taken is horrible.

After the test we asked if we had to wait or could go home. The doctors said to go home and promised to ring in the next 90 minutes. If his blood paracetamol levels were above a certain level we’d need to go back in and he’d be given a drip and admitted to a ward for monitoring.

Bub finally got to sleep at 3am in the car home… I slept in his room with him whilst his daddy waited up anxiously for the call. Fortunately his levels were below those where further medical attention would be required. Well above any recommended dose but below what might require treatment.

Have read quite a bit about paracetamol overdoses since this happened. What is scary is that you can be fine for a day or so and then get really sick. They can be fatal. So whilst Bub is hopefully going to be ok we still can’t be 100% sure yet.

So what is my advice on the back of this experience?
– Move the Calpol out of your child’s bedroom. It might be super convenient to keep it there but if there is even the slightest chance they’ll reach it then move the stuff.
– Child proof lids are not child proof. Bub probably only opened it by chance but if he can do it any other two year old can too.
– Don’t hesitate to go to A&E if you think you need to. The NHS A&E department was in some ways great (excellent children’s waiting room, kind staff) and in some ways crap (long waits, not enough communication) but I’m incredibly glad it was there.

There isn’t much in the way of reliable information on the web about paracetamol overdose in toddlers. I’m surprised NHS Direct or the Calpol website doesn’t have more. These two websites were the most helpful despite being a bit technical and they seemed to accord with what the doctors said at the hospital.
Paracetamol toxicity (Wikipedia)
Paracetamol poisoning (


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5 Responses to “Toddler paracetamol (Calpol) overdose”

  1. Lisa | Says:

    That’s really scary! So glad to read that he is okay, but we’ll be moving the Calpol as soon as I get home this evening. Thanks for the warning.

  2. rebecca middlehurst Says:

    This happened to my 2 yr old daughter yesterday. She climbed to get the bottle and then also got the top off the bottle. Luckily she proudly came to tell me that she had a tummy ache that was better now as she had taken some medicine! I nearly died! So off we went to a&e. She had bloods done after 4 hours and we were admitted to the ward to wait for the results. She was the second child to be admitted for the same thing that day. That child had also climbed but had chewed her way through 20 sachets of calpol. My daughters level was high but lower than the level needing treatment. We were allowed home thankfully and i have gladly checked on her every hour during the night. We are not out of the woods yet as further complications could arise ( praying not) 😦 . My daughter removed the calpol lid with ease. Whilst i take responsibility for the bottle not being in a locked cupboard, I will be contacting the makers of capol regarding their packaging and the fact that it is clearly NOT childsafe.

  3. Sophie cooper Says:

    Thank you for this – it is exactly mirroring the experience I am going through at this very minute! My bubba is also 34 months – he also managed to open a calpol bottle and ingest at least half – we are in a&e he is absolutely fine in himself and absolutely wired – just waiting for the nurse to come and do the numbing cream – fingers crossed he’s ok l

  4. Snow Says:

    Thank for helpful website.I am really worry for my son.He is 3years with10months old.but he drink all bottle of paracetamol 60ml. And full cough liquid bottle60ml.I am from Myanmar.I go to the child hospital. But they don’t do anything.This doctor said (my son has noting just leave to your home. If something happened come to hospital.)I am really sad for my son.This doctor has not kind and selfish. This doctor must be really anxiety and crazy if his son drink para and cough bottle.So I carry my son to home.I pray and I am finding to treat overdose. Now I know it.activated charcoal. And Acetylcysteine.
    Thank for help.I am little bad in English spelling. So plz understand me.Thank…

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