KinderMender’s physicians field the same question time and time again: “Should I use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat my child’s fever?”
No sense in belaboring the point or burying the lead: There is no hot take on this query, and no definitive answer. Each OTC medication has its respective strengths and weaknesses, and both largely have the same effect on fever.
Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) is a NSAID, or anti-inflammatory drug. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not.
So what does that mean? Basically, if your child has a broken ankle or a swollen knee, ibuprofen gets the nod.
Likewise, some studies have shown that ibuprofen is slightly more effective in calming a child’s fever. That being said, it has no significant upper hand when it comes to pain relief.
Acetaminophen, however, is the only real option for infants, while Ibuprofen carries some age restrictions. Six months is the minimum suggested age when giving children Motrin or Advil, and aspirin should not be taken by anyone younger than 18 due to its connection to Reye’s Syndrome, a rare but severe illness that causes swelling in the liver and brain.
Ibuprofen does have longevity on its side. Its potency endures for 6 hours as opposed to acetaminophen, which wears out in four. And while some medical professionals previously believed that acetaminophen could exacerbate the symptoms of asthma, that theory has been negated.
Risks regarding dosage, too, are a tossup. Excessive acetaminophen has been linked to liver damage, while ibuprofen is associated with kidney problems and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Alternating Motrin with Tylenol is largely considered a safe – if somewhat unnecessary – practice, assuming that the correct dosages and intervals are followed. However, the back and forth is not advisable for children who are severely dehydrated
Cough and cold medicines that contain either ibuprofen or acetaminophen should not be administered to children, as this can lead to accidental overdose when a parent or guardian unknowingly attempts to lower a fever with a simultaneous dose of the actual pain reliever.
Honestly, the truest answer to the Tylenol vs. Motrin debate likely lies within your own child. What fever reducer does he or she respond to best? Find out, and you have yourself a winner.
It is important to remember, however, that a fever is not actually a wicked force to be vanquished. In fact, the fever serves a very important role in making your child well again, by working to burn off the intruding virus or infection. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen should be administered only to make children more comfortable as they recover.
We’re now in the thick of cold and flu season. As unfortunate as that is, always remember that your friends and family at KinderMender are here every day to help you ride it out. Contact us whenever you need!