The pharmacy’s pain-relief aisle is chock-full of different over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that promise to ease your aches and pains, but not every painkiller is right for you. Most should help when you have a toothache or a pounding headache, but what if you have a sprained ankle or a fever? Read on to see what’s right for you, but if you are pregnant or have a serious medical condition, talk with your doctor before taking any medication.
When to use: It’s a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which means it can help relieve swelling and inflammation associated with injuries or overuse. Aspirin helps headaches, too. Some migraine-relief medications combine aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine.
When to avoid: Don’t give aspirin to children or teens; they may develop Reye’s syndrome, a health condition that affects all organs of the body. People with asthma or chronic nasal congestion may have an aspirin allergy; ask your doctor before using. Generally, pregnant women shouldn’t take aspirin as it may harm the fetus.
When to use: Like aspirin, ibuprofen is an NSAID, but it’s stronger and longer lasting than aspirin.
When to avoid: NSAIDs may cause stomach irritation and bleeding when taken too frequently.
When to use: Acetaminophen isn’t an NSAID, so it’s best-suited as a fever reducer and for pain relief not associated with swelling and inflammation.
When to avoid: Check with your doctor before taking this or any other OTC painkiller if you consume three or more alcoholic beverages daily.
When to use: This NSAID is also a longer-lasting alternative to aspirin but, like ibuprofen, it can cause stomach irritation.
When to avoid: Don’t give naproxen to children without a doctor’s OK.