Over the Counter Pain Relievers and Fever Reducers

Some of the most commonly used medicines out there are those that treat pain and fever. People use them frequently, often without stopping to think if they are safe or really necessary. There are several types of medicines available to help with pain relief and to bring down fevers. However, while many pain relievers can help to bring down cold and flu-related symptoms like muscle aches and sore throat, they likely won't help to relieve symptoms like cough or congestion.

If you aren't sure which over the counter pain reliever or fever reducer is right for you and your symptoms, we can help. Not every medicine is right for every person, so read on to learn what your options are and the pros and cons that come with them.

1

Acetaminophen

Tylenol tablets
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Acetaminophen, commonly sold under the brand name Tylenol, is usually considered the safest pain reliever and fever reducer available. It's also recommended for colds, headache, muscle aches, arthritis, backache, and toothaches. It's also marketed for use in children as young as two months old.

If you are using acetaminophen, be sure not to take more than indicated on the label or by your health care provider. Although it is widely available (known as paracetamol in many countries outside of the U.S.), it is also one of the most commonly overdosed medicines as well. However, it can cause liver damage if too much is taken or you have certain diseases. It may also not be safe to take if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, so talk to your doctor before taking it if you fall into either of those categories.

2

Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen tablets medicine
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Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly sold under the brands Advil and Motrin. That means that it helps reduce swelling (and pain) but it is not a steroid. Ibuprofen is great for sore muscles, sore throats and can also be very effective at bringing down fevers, common cold, or the flu. These viruses can cause aches and pains, headache, and other discomforts, which ibuprofen can help to relieve. Even if you don't have a fever, taking ibuprofen may bring you some relief from the pain caused by your illness. It can also be used in children as young as six months.

Some people shouldn't take ibuprofen, however. This includes those who have ever had an allergic reaction to a pain reliever or fever reducer. You also should not take it right before or after having heart surgery, and talk to your provider before taking it if you are having any type of surgical procedure. 

3

Naproxen

aleve pills
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Naproxen is another NSAID commonly sold as the brand name Aleve. It's similar to ibuprofen and is available over the counter or by prescription. Like other NSAIDs, it works by inhibiting the formation of chemicals in the body known as prostaglandins to provide relief. Although Naproxen works differently than ibuprofen, it ultimately has the same effect and is an effective pain reliever and fever reducer.

Naproxen is recommended for pain relief, fever reduction, and for reducing inflammation. As an anti-inflammatory, it may also be helpful for relieving back pain or an arthritis-related spine condition such as ankylosing spondylitis (a form of inflammatory arthritis) and osteoarthritis. 

There are several conditions in which it may not be advised to take naproxen. These include heart disease, stroke, gastrointestinal problems, liver problems, and even pregnancy. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure about the safety of taking naproxen with any medical condition.

4

Aspirin

Bottle of aspirin
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Aspirin can be an effective pain reliever and fever reducer. Classified as a salicylate NSAID, aspirin is sold under many brand names, including Bayer and Ecotrin. Aspirin not only relieves pain, fever, inflammation, and swelling, it also reduces the blood's ability to clot. It's also often prescribed to treat symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritisosteoarthritislupus, and other rheumatic conditions, and many people take low doses of aspirin to prevent heart attacks and stroke.

Talk to your provider before taking aspirin if you have asthma or you drink three or more alcoholic beverages a day. Additionally, talk to their provider before giving aspirin to a child or teenager, as it may cause a potentially fatal complication known as Reye's syndrome, which causes fat to build up in the brain, liver, and other organs.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not take aspirin. Talk to your doctor if you become pregnant while taking aspirin so that you receive proper monitoring.

A Word From Verywell

While over-the-counter pain relief medicines can help to ease certain cold and flu symptoms, they shouldn't replace care from a doctor if you have actually been infected with the flu virus. The flu can have serious complications if not treated in a timely manner, so call your provider immediately if you believe you have contracted it.

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