Ever wonder which over-the-counter medicine to give a child experiencing muscle aches or pain from a mild injury? Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve are common pain relievers on drugstore shelves. While all three medications can help alleviate a child's discomfort, the active ingredient in each drug is different. In Tylenol, it's acetaminophen; in Advil and Motrin, it's ibuprofen; and in Aleve, it is naproxen.
Dr. Shevaun Doyle, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at HSS, provides some general information and guidelines about acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen:
No matter which medication is used, Dr. Doyle advises parents to pay careful attention to dosing. For the liquid form, parents should use the dropper or dosing cup that comes with the product. Kitchen spoons should never be used since they're not uniform in size.
A study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health found that many parents had trouble measuring the proper dose and inadvertently gave their children too much medicine. The research supports the use of oral syringes rather than dosing cups, especially when small amounts of medication are given.
"Some parents mistakenly believe that because a medicine is sold over the counter, it's safer. That's not the case. An overdose can be very serious," Dr. Doyle said. In addition, she notes that the active ingredients in Tylenol and Advil are also found in other medications, such as cough and cold medicines. Parents are advised to read the list of ingredients in all medications a child is receiving to prevent double dosing.
Dr. Doyle also recommends that parents set up a schedule. "It's a good idea to write down the time a medication is given so it's easier to keep track of how much a child is receiving," she says. "If a parent has any questions about which over-the-counter medication to use or the proper dose, it's best to call the child's doctor."
Reviewed and updated May 9, 2022