Over-the-Counter Medications

Medications are only one part of your child’s pain management plan.

Your child’s surgeon may recommend using over-the-counter medications (available without a prescription) such as acetaminophen (Tylenol ® ) or ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin® ). Acetaminophen and ibuprofen each work in different ways to treat pain. They can be given together to manage pain.

It is important to use the dose your surgeon recommends even if it is different from the dose listed on the medication bottle. The dose on the bottle is based on age, but weight-based dosing may manage pain better.

Your surgeon may recommend using these medications “around the clock” to manage pain. This means giving your child the medications on a set schedule, and possibly during the night. Ask your surgeon what dosing schedule to follow, as well as how to give the medications.

The instructions would be either to:

  • Give both acetaminophen and ibuprofen together (at the same time)
    • This decreases how often you give the medication
  • Alternate them by giving each one at a separate time

Follow the instructions your surgeon gives you. 

Keeping track of your child’s medications is important. This will allow you to manage the pain safely without using more medication than is advised. As with any medications, there are possible serious side effects if used more frequently or at higher doses than prescribed. 

You can keep track of medications by making notes on a medication log or on your phone. Write down the name of the medication, the time you gave it, the amount you gave, and when your child can have the next dose. Share this information with anyone else who is also caring for your child, so a dose isn’t accidentally given twice.

Note: Other medications may also contain acetaminophen. Check the labels on any medications you’re giving your child (such as a prescription opioid medication) or other over-the-counter medications to make sure they aren’t already receiving acetaminophen.

Tips for giving medications safely:

  • For liquid medications, check the concentration on the bottle to make sure you’re giving the correct milligram-based dose.
  • Only use an oral syringe or medication cup to dose correctly.You can buy these at your pharmacy if they do not come with your medication.
  • Household spoons are not accurate to measure medications.
  • If your child resists taking the medication, use the syringe to squirt small amounts of medicine into the side of their cheek. This prevents gagging and your child is less likely to spit out the medication.
  • Be careful if you are mixing medication with a food your child enjoys in hopes of making it easier for them to take. If you do this, only mix the medication into a small spoonful of food.  Otherwise, if they don’t finish it, you won’t know how much medication they took.
  • Ask your pharmacist if you can refrigerate the medication, as the cold temperature may make it easier for your child to take.
  • Sucking on ice chips or a popsicle first will dull the taste of the medication. You can also follow the medication with a cold drink of something they enjoy.
  • Ibuprofen can cause stomach upset if taken without food. If possible, give this with food or milk.
  • Have a positive attitude. Be calm, honest and empathetic but remain in charge. Explain why the medication is helpful.
  • Give your child praise when they take the medication. Some children respond well to a small reward such as a sticker or a chart which when filled leads to a larger reward.