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Pain is common in many injuries and illnesses in children, as well as after having an operation (post-operative pain). Your child may need pain-reliever medicine (analgesic), such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help reduce or control their pain.
Paracetamol and ibuprofen do not treat the cause of your child's pain; both medicines just relieve the feelings of the pain.
It is important to give the correct dose of pain-relieving medicine. Give the dose that is written on the bottle or pack according to your child's weight.
Any infant or child who is unwell, or in moderate to severe pain, should be seen by a doctor to find out the cause.
Older children can often tell you that they have pain, although some children might not be able to tell you exactly where their pain is. Younger children may show you that they have pain by:
If you can’t relieve your child’s pain by comforting them and helping them to relax, distracting them or providing a cool compress, giving them pain-relieving medicines can help.
Paracetamol or ibuprofen can make your child’s pain less severe and help them feel more comfortable, but neither medicine will make the cause of the pain go away.
Paracetamol and ibuprofen can help your child sleep more easily if they have a painful condition, such as an ear infection, sore throat, sore tummy or a broken bone.
If your child’s pain lasts for more than a few hours, the pain is moderate to severe, or your child is clearly unwell, take your child to a doctor to find out the cause.
How much to give:
How often can it be given?
Note: Short-term use of ibuprofen, at appropriate doses, may be taken with a glass of water and no food. If this causes stomach upset, you should try offering your child some food or milk.
So that your child's pain is well controlled, it is OK to alternate giving paracetamol and ibuprofen, or even to give both at the same time. If you do this, it can be easy to accidentally give too much of either medicine. Keep a diary of when you give each dose of paracetamol and ibuprofen so you don't give your child too much of either medicine.
If your child has had too much paracetamol or ibuprofen, call the Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26 in Australia) or take them to the nearest hospital emergency department.
To prevent your child finding and taking medicine:
I don’t know how much my child weighs. Should I just give them the dose of medicine the package recommends for their age?
The recommended dosage for medicine is worked out based on a child’s weight. The ages given on the medicine packaging or bottle are a guide only. If you don’t know your child’s weight, give the dose listed for their age. If your child is substantially lighter than most children their age, give the dose recommended for younger children (the next age bracket down).
If I'm taking my child to the doctor or emergency department, should I wait until they're seen by a doctor before giving pain relief?
No – simple pain relief will not mask any signs of serious illness. You can give your child pain relief before taking them to the doctor or to hospital, to make sure they're as comfortable as possible.
My child has a fever, but is not in pain. Should I give him a pain reliever to reduce the fever?
If your child seems well and is happy, there is no need to treat a fever. A fever helps the body's immune system fight off infection. If your child is miserable or uncomfortable, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to help them feel better.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Emergency and Pharmacy departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed July 2020.
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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.