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Children in pain need different treatment than adults. As a caregiver, you need to consider not just the kind of pain, but also the underlying cause and other factors such as their body weight and their stage of development (for example, some medications may be unsuitable during puberty because of their side effects).


However, there are very effective pain relievers available for children, some of which you can buy at your pharmacy.



What causes pain in children?

The most common type of pain in children is acute pain resulting from injury, illness or surgery. But children can suffer from chronic pain for most of the same reasons that adults do: frequent headaches, recurring stomach pain, pain in the muscles and joints and cancer pain.



When do I need to see the doctor?

Take your child to the doctor when the pain is distressing or unbearable, if your child looks unwell, when there are other symptoms such as a rash, breathing difficulties, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, or when the pain lasts for more than a couple of days. Your doctor will ask you about symptoms and will usually give the child a physical examination or order some tests to find out what the problem is. Children aged over four are usually able to use pictures of facial expressions and other scales to help the doctor understand their pain.



What treatments are available?

Many children with mild to moderate pain will respond to reassuring and comforting responses from their caregiver.

Mild to moderate pain:

Liquid paracetamol and liquid or soluble ibuprofen (eg Fenpaed) are effective for young children. Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years because of its association with a potentially fatal condition called Reye's syndrome. Older children may get relief from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – but do not give these medications to children unless advised by your doctor.

Aspirin type medicines should not be used for children and young people. Children over the age of 12 years can be given a combination of paracetamol 500mg + ibuprofen 150mg and this is a useful option when the source of the pain is unclear.

Moderate to severe pain:

Opioids may be given to children who are in hospital and suffering from moderate to severe pain. The medical team will try to anticipate their pain, as children often won’t ask for pain relief until the pain is severe. They may give the child regular doses or injections of pain relief medication, or relief on demand if the child is old enough to use a patient-controlled analgesia pump (PCA). Nurse-controlled analgesia (NCA) is similar to PCA but is for young children or those unable to use the pump themselves. The PCA or NCA will be set up specifically for the child according to their age and weight, and it is a very safe way of giving opioids for pain relief.




More information

EMedicine Health – Abdominal pain in children

EMedicine Health – Migraine headache in children

EMedicine Health – Pain after surgery




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