Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are both used to treat pain and to reduce fever in children. After giving a dose, they both take about the same amount of time to work (onset of action). This is approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour. Acetaminophen's effects usually last 4-6 hours and ibuprofen's duration is about 6-8 hours.
Acetaminophen and ibuprofen doses (on over-the-counter products) are calculated according to how much children in certain age groups tend to weigh. Then these dosages are shown in an "easy-to-read" chart on the side of the product you choose. Sometimes a doctor or pharmacist may figure an exact dose based on your child's individual weight. Often times, the dose of ibuprofen used for fever is different than the dose to treat pain. Check with your pediatrician or pharmacist for the proper dose for your child.
Although similar in many ways, ibuprofen works differently than acetaminophen. Ibuprofen also works against inflammation, whereas acetaminophen does not possess this property. Acetaminophen should not be given any more often than every 4 hours, and no more than 5 doses should be given in any 24-hour period. Ibuprofen should not be given any more often than every 6 hours, and is usually not used in children under 6 months of age. Ibuprofen can also cause an upset stomach. For this reason, it is important to give your child's dose after a meal or snack.
So which medication is better for your child? Well, acetaminophen has fewer side effects than ibuprofen. Acetaminophen is considered to be very safe as long as the correct dose is taken. Excessive doses of acetaminophen can be extremely toxic to the liver. Ibuprofen has a greater potential for causing side effects. It prevents the lining of the stomach from protecting itself against its own acid.
This could lead to an ulcer or bleeding. It is also very important that your child drinks enough fluids while taking ibuprofen. This is because a child who is dehydrated, vomiting, or not drinking or eating, may be at greater risk for side effects from ibuprofen. In these children, and in general, it is usually a good idea to treat with acetaminophen first. If after about 2 hours the fever has still not come down, then a dose of ibuprofen could be given. Remember not to expect your child's temperature to return to a normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit after taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
These drugs may only bring down a fever by about 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit. The most important thing is that your child feels more comfortable. Because ibuprofen's effects last slightly longer than acetaminophen, ibuprofen may be a better choice when treating "overnight pain" or "overnight fever control". Before choosing either medication, discuss your child's situation with your pediatrician or pharmacist and be sure to ask about proper dosing for your child.