Most individuals usually have a medicine cabinet packed with over-the-counter medications. Due to the wide variety of over-the-counter medications to select from, it can be difficult to choose the best one for a particular condition.
What are the two groups of pain medications?
Over-the-counter medications are divided into two groups. The first group is called as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which include ibuprofen, aspirin, ketoprofen and naproxen. These drugs work by preventing the body from generating chemicals that cause swelling and fever. The doctor will usually recommend these medications for minor to moderate discomfort due to muscle aches, headaches, flu, common cold, arthritis, menstrual pain and toothache.
The second group includes only one drug – acetaminophen. No one is exactly sure how it works. It is believed that it prevents the pain centers in the brain from receiving nerve signals. It is suitable for fever as well as mild to moderate pain due to headaches including tension headaches, migraines, sore throat, back pain, shingles and arthritis. The difference between non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen is that acetaminophen does not minimize the inflammation. It simply means that it will not help the aches due to swelling due to sports injuries.
Important considerations to bear in mind with pain medications
Generally, each of these pain medications are considered safe for most individuals as long as taken as directed. On the other hand, there are certain exceptions to bear in mind.
- Do not provide aspirin to children or adolescents since it can lead to the development of Reye’s syndrome which is a rare life-threatening condition.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should not be taken by those who have ulcers or currently using blood thinning medications as well as pregnant women.
- Acetaminophen is usually allowed for pregnant women seeking short-term relief for pain.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should not be given to children below 12 years old without consulting a doctor first.
- Even though acetaminophen is safe for children, you have to pay close attention to the dosage. Remember that acetaminophen overdose is the common cause of drug-related deaths in both children and teenagers.
Choosing the right pain medication
Due to the variety of choices available, you have to decide which over-the-counter pain medication is suitable for the individual. Take note that this usually depends on the symptoms experienced by the individual.
All of these medications help with fever and pain, but since acetaminophen does not work for inflammation, it is recommended to use one of the NSAIDs to reduce the swelling. Since each individual reacts in a different way to each of these pain medications, most doctors suggest to use one that worked in the past. This increases the effectiveness of the drug and reduces the chances of any side effects from developing.
Understandably, you do not need to pack your medicine cabinet with a variety of over-the-counter pain medications. It is better to stick with 1 or 2 that work best for the individual.