The choice in over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers for children is restricted to ibuprofen or Paracetamol, although once you include the huge array of different strengths and product forms there are more than enough products to choose from. Both appear to be equally effective and are very safe, though in Australia paracetamol is slightly more favoured of the two. Paracetamol can be given from the age of one month; ibuprofen from three months.
How safe are they?
- Paracetamol is still the drug of choice for reducing pain and fever — partly, if not mainly, because of its proven track record over decades — but there's still a very real risk of poisoning through overdose. Overdose causes jaundice, liver failure and death, and occurs when the maximum daily dose is exceeded or when repeated doses are given to children with pre-existing liver disease (such as viral hepatitis). Malnutrition and lack of food can increase the likelihood of liver toxicity
- Ibuprofen for children has become more popular over the last decade. Side effects of ibuprofen include gastrointestinal upset, NSAID-induced asthma and kidney problems, especially if a child is dehydrated (from vomiting, diarrhoea and/or not drinking enough).
Aspirin should never be given to children under 16, because it’s associated with a rare but serious disease called Reyes Syndrome which can cause delirium and coma.
The good news is that the risk of overdose or adverse side effects from OTC painkillers is generally very low if they’re used correctly. Following our Safety tips will help you avoid those risks.
Painkillers for babies and children come in a variety of ‘child-friendly’ forms:
- Drops, which are usually recommended for babies and very young children, because you can measure the dose much more precisely. It’s also one of the easiest ways to give medicine to very young children.
- Suspensions, which are thicker because the active ingredient is ‘held’ in the liquid by a suspending agent. You must shake them well before use.
- Elixirs and syrups are thinner liquid products with the active ingredient dissolved and an agent added to mask its bitter taste.
- Chewable and effervescent tablets are also available, as are suppositories.