Which Pain Reliever Is Best?

Which pain reliever should you take for a headache? Toothache? Burn? Check out your options before heading for the medicine cabinet.

When a certain level of pain hits, all we can think of is stopping it with the first pill we can get our hands on. But you want to be sure that you get hold of the most effective pain reliever for your symptoms and your general physical condition. The typical medicine cabinet holds several types of medication to reduce discomfort and inflammation from numerous causes. These can lead to soreness and a need for relief. But which type of painkiller should be used for specific ailments?

Use topical pain relief for superficial or skin problems, like that leading to dental discomfort. A toothache or other mouth sore can be relieved by applying a numbing salve on a cotton swab or with the tip of your finger. Check with your doctor about the use of cloves, an old-fashioned alternative remedy for a toothache.

Topical analgesics also can be used for skin abrasions, cuts, scratches, bites, minor burns, and other types of wounds or injuries. Check the package directions for suitable usage before applying to any part of the body, however. Never take internally any substances that are intended for topical skin application. Look for the expiration date to be sure the product is still good, especially if you haven't used it for some time. Use only the directed amount for best results.


Aspirin or aspirin-based products, derived from a type of tree bark, have been used for centuries as a pain reducer for a variety of discomforts. However, like most medications, it must be taken with caution since it can produce side effects like stomach irritation and internal bleeding as well as an allergic reaction. Children and teens should avoid aspirin, unless prescribed by their physician, since its use has been associated with Reyes Syndrome, a potentially fatal flu-like response.

Acetaminophen is another type of common pain reliever that can be taken orally for relief. Complications include possible liver damage with high doses. Some users claim that taking acetaminophen makes them sleepy, while others deny this effect. Both aspirin and acetaminophen can be purchased over the counter at drugstores and supermarkets or anywhere that OTC medications are sold.

Narcotic pain relievers often include codeine as an ingredient. These are used for serious pain like that arising from severe injuries or hospital surgery. Demerol, sometimes given to women who are in labor or with gynecological problems, is one of the trademark drugs of this type, which can only be obtained by prescription.

Morphine is a high-level pain control medication given by prescription only for significant discomfort. Terminally ill patients may be given comfort care that includes around-the-clock morphine pills or a morphine drop through an I.V. line, for example.

Whatever the source of your pain, there is probably a medical treatment for it in the form of a pain reliever. Experts estimate that 90% of most people's pain from any source can be medically managed. So the next time you're suffering with a migraine or nursing a swollen ankle, check with your doctor about the best painkiller for your condition.

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