Can My Child Use Adult Ibuprofen?
Ask a Pharmacist
A mother with four sons is looking for a fever reducer and general pain medicine for everyone. Her sons are 3, 6, 8, and 14 years old. She prefers to use ibuprofen for herself. Her younger two boys do not like taking liquid medicine.
She asks, "Can I just get adult ibuprofen tablets and use them for everyone?"
The Short Answer
In terms of how well it works and how safe it is, there is no difference between medicine designed for adults and medicine designed for children as long as the dose is appropriate. If you're able to carefully dose the medicine appropriately, you can use adult ibuprofen tablets for children 3, 6, 8, and 14 years old.
It's all about the dose.
The Long Answer
Ibuprofen, like any other medicine, works because of the active ingredient. In this case, ibuprofen is the active ingredient. In general, if the active ingredient is the same, the only difference between children and adult formulations is how the medicine is taken, what it tastes or smells like, and how much active ingredient is in each dose.
In the case of ibuprofen, an adult tablet contains 200 mg whereas the children's liquid has 100 mg per every 5 milliliters. See the chart below for appropriate dosing for children of different ages.
Recommended Ibuprofen Dose by Age
Adult tablet dose (200 mg)
Children's liquid dose (100 mg/5 mL)
As you can see in the chart, for children you sometimes have to cut a tablet in half. Likewise, an adult has to drink a lot of children's liquid to get an appropriate dose.
If you compare the dose for a 6 and 8 year old, you can see that the tablet dose is the same, whereas the liquid dose changes just slightly. This is because the tablet can't be correctly cut any smaller than in half, whereas liquids can be dosed right down to the last drop.
If you follow proper dosing, a child can safely use adult tablets and an adult can safely use children's liquid.
Why Do We Have Different Versions?
There are two reasons why we have adult and child versions of the same medicine.
It is convenient because we can pack more medicine into an adult form, so you don't need to take quite as much. Also, most children have trouble swallowing pills or even bad-tasting liquid medicine. We go to lots of trouble to make medicine so that people who need it are willing and able to use it. Can you imagine if all medicine was provided by a rectal suppository?
It is safe because children's forms always contain a lower concentration, making it harder to overdose. Children can't handle as wide a dose difference as adults can, so it's very important to get just the right dose. Liquids let you do that.
A few other things to keep in mind when figuring out what medicine to give a child:
- Not all tablets can be cut, and not all capsules can be opened.
- Medicines made for children are always safer for children.
- Most kids can't swallow tablets. Be careful.
- Not all adult medicine can be given to children.
- The difference between helping your child and hurting them is the dose.
Have you asked your pharmacist about ibuprofen before?
Remember: Safety First!
If you use proper precautions and careful dosing, adult medicine can be just fine for children. I do not suggest making a habit out of this, however. Children's forms are always safer.
The information provided on this page is intended for general educational and informational use only. It is not specific, personalized healthcare advice for you. For healthcare advice regarding your particular situation, talk to members of your healthcare team.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.