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Can My Kid Use Adult Ibuprofen?

Updated on March 22, 2017
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Brandon is a community pharmacist in Minnesota. He received his Doctorate of Pharmacy from the University of Minnesota in 2011.

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

Person's age
Adult tablet dose (200 mg)
Children's liquid dose (100 mg/5 mL)
3 years
½ tablet
5 mL
6 years
1 tablet
10 mL
8 years
1 tablet
10 mL
14 years
1½ tablet
15 mL
30 years
2 tablets
20 mL
The above doses are for illustrative purposes only. This chart was made using a "standard" weight for each age, but for every individual there are factors such as other medications, health conditions, condition being treated, and, of course, weight.

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.

  1. Convenience
  2. Safety

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?

See results

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.

Disclaimer

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.

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      Open 2 years ago

      I appreciate your kind and genoures advice a lot!. I have been trying it hardly and did not get those amazing results!. It is nice to see that you got my comment in a good way!God bless you!VA:F [1.9.10_1130]please wait VA:F [1.9.10_1130](from 0 votes)

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      Dawn 22 months ago

      This was a very informative reply to a question i also had. My daughter will not have medicine, but will happily take a tablet so this reassures me when she needs ibuprofen! Thank you

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      H.O'Neill 16 months ago

      Doesn't the weight of the child play a role? A lot of 14 year olds are already the average weight of an adult.

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      Author

      Brandon Young 16 months ago from Minnestoa

      That's definitely true, H.O'Neill. Most medications, including ibuprofen, have weight-based dosing. The dosing chart above was made using a "standard" weight for each age. But it's for illustrative purposes only. For any individual there are factors such as other medications, health conditions, condition being treated, and, of course, weight that need to be considered to recommend a dose. You should always check with a healthcare professional if you're not familiar with a medication's dosing. I think it's even more important for kids' medication.

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      Wendi 7 months ago

      Why does your chart recommend that an adult take 2 tablets of 200mg (400mg) of ibuprofen, and then the same chart recommends that if an adult were to use children's liquid ibuprofen, they would need to take 40 ml? At 100mg/5ml wouldn't a 40ml dose equal 800mg of ibuprofen? How is that comparable to the 400mg for the adult dose? Are you saying that adults should take twice the number of mg if using children's liquid or are your chart numbers faulty?

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      Brandon Young 7 months ago from Minnestoa

      Thanks for pointing this out. When I did the chat I was using a range, and for adults I guess I used the top of the range, while for kids I went for mid-range. In any case, I see that that's confusing so I changed it to make the doses equivalent.

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