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What over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can I give my child?

For babies 6 months of age or younger, parents should only give acetaminophen for pain relief. For a child 6 months of age or older, either acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be given for pain relief. Be sure to ask your child’s healthcare provider for the right dosage for your child’s age and size. Do not give aspirin to your child because Reye’s syndrome, a rare but very serious illness that harms the liver and brain.

Dr. Anne M. Arikian, MD
Family Practitioner

In general, to relieve mild to moderate pain in babies six months and over, you can give acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen both come in a suspension and liquid form, and acetaminophen is also available as a rectal suppository. The suspension form is formulated for younger infants and can be given with a dropper. The liquid form is appropriate for older infants and children who can sip from a medication cup. You can also mix the medication with food or liquid, but realize that if your child does not consume the entire meal or beverage, he will not take in the full dose of medication.

Generally, acetaminophen can be given up to every four to six hours as needed for fever or pain, not to exceed four doses in a 24-hour period. Ibuprofen can be given every six hours as needed. In some circumstances your health care provider may recommend alternating these two medications. Be careful not to exceed the total daily dose of acetaminophen from all sources, including other over-the-counter cough and cold medications. Accidental acetaminophen overdose is a serious condition and can potentially be fatal. If you suspect your child has potentially had an overdose of acetaminophen, call your Poison Control Center.

You can give acetaminophen to babies under the age of six months. The dosage depends on the baby's weight, not age. However, over-the-counter packaging does not include the dosage for babies this young, so you will need to contact your doctor's office to find out the correct dosage. Ibuprofen can only be given to children six months and up.

Teething pain can often be managed without medication, for instance with a chilled (not frozen) teething ring or with gentle gum massage. Avoid the use of topical anesthetics such as Orajel ® in young infants, as these have been associated with rare but serious side effects.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.