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Guide to pain medicine for kids Children's Wisconsin

No more ouchies: A guide to over-the-counter pain relief for kids

Whether you're dealing with teething, growing pains, soreness from shots or other ailments, it’s never easy to see your child in pain. 

When your child is experiencing a new or unexplained pain, it's a good idea to consult your pediatrician to determine the root cause. However, if your child is experiencing mild pain symptoms with a known cause that you're familiar with, most of the time that can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications. Either way, it's important to read dosage guidelines carefully because pain medications can be harmful to kids if administered incorrectly. 

Available pain medications for kids

To help kids manage pain safely, it's important to have a good understanding of the different options available and their correct dosages. 

Acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol®, Panadol®, Feverall® and Tempra®) is a pain-relief medication used to reduce fever and pain. It comes in liquid and chewable forms (as well as a rectal suppository in the event that your child is vomiting and can't keep medication down). Acetaminophen is generally safe for infants 3 months and older, provided that you carefully follow instructions when administering it. Overdosing a child with acetaminophen can be toxic, so it's important to carefully follow dosing instructions.

Ibuprofen (also known as Motrin® or Advil®) is a pain-relief medication and fever reducer that also comes in liquid or chewable form. Ibuprofen works similarly to Acetaminophen, but it blocks enzymes at a different location. It is not recommended for children under 6 months of age, and it, too, can be toxic to children if they take too much of it. 

When to use which medications

Generally speaking, deciding which medication to administer to a child is personal preference. Both acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be effective in treating pain or fever. 

For issues involving inflammation or aches and pains, ibuprofen could be a bit more effective because of its anti-inflammatory effects. Because ibuprofen is also dosed every 6 to 8 hours, it can reduce the need to wake and administer a dose during the night. However, ibuprofen should not be given to children who are having trouble drinking enough liquids. So, if your child is dehydrated, administer acetaminophen. 

In extreme circumstances, you may be able to administer both acetaminophen and ibuprofen, making sure to space doses out by at least two hours. This should only be done under a pediatrician's direction, so make sure you've consulted your pediatrician before attempting this strategy. 

How much medication to give your child

Giving a child too much pain medication can be poisonous — even fatal. Consulting your pediatrician and closely following dosing instructions will ensure that you're giving your child relief safely and effectively. 

Dosage information is determined by your child's weight. If you do not know your child's weight, you can base the dosage amount on your child's age. Do not give a child more than their recommended dosage unless otherwise directed by your pediatrician.

Liquid Acetaminophen Dosage (160 mg/5 mL)

Give every 4 to 6 hours as needed, but do not give more than 4 doses in 24 hours.

 Weight  Age Dosage
6-11 pounds 0-3 months Ask your doctor
12-17 pounds 4-11 months Ask your doctor
18-23 pounds 12-23 months Ask your doctor
24-35 pounds 2-3 years 5 mL
36-47 pounds 4-5 years 7.5 mL
48-59 pounds 6-8 years 10 mL
60-71 pounds 9-10 years 12.5 mL
 72-95 pounds 11 years 15 mL
96 pounds or more 12 years or older 20 mL

Liquid Ibuprofen Dosage (100 mg / 5 mL)

Give every 6 to 8 hours as needed, but do not give more than 4 doses in 24 hours.

 Weight  Age Dosage
12-17 pounds 6-11 months 2.5 mL
18-23 pounds 12-23 months 4 mL
24-35 pounds 2-3 years 5 mL
36-47 pounds 4-5 years 7.5 mL
48-59 pounds 6-8 years 10 mL
60-71 pounds 9-10 years 12.5 mL
 72-95 pounds 11 years 15 mL
96 pounds or more 12 years or older 20 mL

Pain relief medication is safe to use as long as you don't exceed the recommended dosages, take doses too close together or take the medication too many days in a row. If your child's symptoms have not subsided in two days while using the medication, consult your pediatrician before continuing to administer the medication. 

If you think your child has taken too much medication, call the Wisconsin Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 immediately for assistance.

General medication safety reminders

Whether you're giving your child an over-the-counter medication or a prescribed medication, following a few safe practices will ensure you're administering medication safely.

  • Store medication out of reach of children.

  • Never give adult medicines to children, and avoid administering medicines with more than one ingredient (like cold medicine) until a child is at least 6 years old. 

  • Use only the dosing device that comes with the medication. Don't substitute home measuring devices (like teaspoons or tablespoons).

  • Keep a record of doses given and times administered, especially if more than one caretaker is responsible for the child or if you are transitioning caregivers (like dropping a child off at daycare).

As always, if you have any questions about administering pain medication to your child, please consult your pediatrician.