Acetaminophen For Your Child: Understanding The Risks And Alternatives You Might Want To Consider

No caring individual wants to see a child suffer from pain, especially their parent. Several medications are commonly used for the treatment of pain, many of which are available over-the-counter at pharmacies. One such medicine that has been used for many years for the treatment of ordinary childhood pain and fever is acetaminophen. Developed in the late 1800s, the use of acetaminophen has reached near universal acceptance. However, there is accumulating evidence that acetaminophen may not be as effective as once thought for the treatment of pain and fever. In fact, there are reasons to believe that acetaminophen can be dangerous if abused, and parents may wish to consider alternative over-the-counter pain medications for their children. Below is more information on acetaminophen, some of the latest findings about its effectiveness and safety, and possible alternatives you may wish to evaluate for use with children.

Acetaminophen--a brief introduction

Acetaminophen actually predates aspirin and was originally derived from another pain medication called phenacetin. Unlike most of its pain-fighting counterparts that are available without a prescription, acetaminophen is not classified as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). This means its ability to reduce inflammation is questionable, at best, and the use of acetaminophen is generally targeted instead toward pain and fever relief. Acetaminophen is widely available in both brand name and generic forms and is one of the least expensive medications available for the treatment of childhood pain and fever.

Why you might want to consider alternatives to acetaminophen

Despite over a century of use, there is still no wide consensus on why or how acetaminophen relieves pain and fever. However, there has been considerable research on acetaminophen's effectiveness and its impact on the functioning of the human body. Below are some of the most recent findings that should be carefully evaluated before giving your child acetaminophen:

  • Limited margin of safety for overdoses - The maximum safe dose of acetaminophen for an adult is 4,000 milligrams per day and is much less for young children. Even a small overdose can be dangerous and lead to severe, sometimes-fatal, liver damage. This leads to serious concerns about providing an appropriate dose for children, especially when varying weights and ages can make providing the right dose tricky for parents. Compounding the problem is the proliferation of acetaminophen in other over-the-counter products, so accidental overdose becomes even more likely when parents are using multiple medications for their sick children.

  • Unintended psychological effects - Research has demonstrated that acetaminophen can dull the mental perception of both pain and pleasure. While this is a possible benefit for children who are experiencing pain, it can also rob them of some of their emotional growth potential and hinder their mental well-being.

  • Possibly ineffective with some chronic pain - A recent study found that acetaminophen is a poor treatment of choice for managing osteoarthritis pain. While this may not always be relevant to kids with short-term pain, it does reinforce the thought among some that acetaminophen isn't as effective overall for pain management.

  • Possible contribution to autism - There is a possible link between acetaminophen use and autism, according to some researchers. The link is believed to exist whenever acetaminophen is administered to young children; while the cause is not proven, it is suspected that acetaminophen may cause brain swelling, and this ultimately results in developmental delays and disruptions.

Alternatives to acetaminophen

While acetaminophen is still generally considered safe in appropriate doses, the concerns above are why you may wish to look at other options for treating your child's pain and fever. There are several good options available, with NSAIDs being the largest category of alternative pain treatment medications. Ibubrofen and naproxen are two over-the-counter NSAIDs that offer relief for childhood pain and fever. Aspirin is also in the NSAID family, but keep in mind that it is not recommended for use with children due to a strong association with the development of Reye's Syndrome.

As with any medical concern, the most important consideration is to consult your child's physician regarding treatment options. They can provide you with expert guidance about what and what not to do when it comes to treating pain or fever, including whether acetaminophen is an appropriate therapy in the case of your child. For more information and advice, talk to a family doctor at a clinic like Rural Health Services Consortium Inc.