With what's being called 'the worst cold ever' going round at the moment, we've been stocking up on painkillers in case we're struck with it, but there's always been a degree of confusion over which ones to use for different ailments – specifically what to take for coronavirus. To clear things up, we asked Dr Sophie Shotter, Medical Director of Illuminate Skin Clinic which painkillers she recommends for while illness.
Ibuprofen: when to take it and when not to?
You may have read reports early last year that taking ibuprofen for coronavirus is ill-advised. This advice originated in March 2020 from doctors in France noticing a link between young people diagnosed with Covid-19 becoming very ill after taking ibuprofen. Sophie explains this is not scientifically accurate and the World Health Organisation withdrew its advice on avoiding the anti-inflammatory drug for coronavirus symptoms. "Having said that, right now if I got Covid-19, I wouldn't take Ibuprofen, I would stick to paracetamol," she says.
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What does Sophie take ibuprofen for herself? "If I've got period pain , joint pain or backache I often reach for my ibuprofen because it's anti-inflammatory and will really help to calm any pain caused by inflammation."
Paracetamol: best for coronavirus, colds and flu
"Paracetamol is our best friend, it's a great painkiller and very effective and pretty safe to take for most people," says Dr Sophie. She advises taking paracetamol for coronavirus because it's "brilliant at controlling your temperature." Adults should take two tablets every four hours, she advises. For children, the dosage depends on their weight.
She personally takes paracetamol for colds and flu; her choice is Night- and Day Nurse. "Be careful as they have paracetamol in them, so don't take those plus paracetamol tablets."
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Some paracetamol tablets contain caffeine. "Caffeine can help increase the effect of some painkillers by five to ten per cent, so can be a useful addition."
Paracetamol and alcohol
"Exercise taking paracetamol with caution with alcohol," she reminds us. "That's not to say that if you've got a hangover headache don't take paracetamol because by the morning a lot of the alcohol is through your system." But both paracetamol and alcohol rely on the same liver enzyme pathways to be metabolised, she adds, so avoid overloading your liver. In short: "Take paracetamol for a hangover, but not too much of it."
When to take codeine
"Codeine is a member of the opioid family, which means it's related to morphine and it's actually turned into morphine in your body which is how it has its pain-relieving effect. It's a very good pain reliever if you need it but it can have some side effects," she warns, citing nausea and constipation as side effects of codeine.
Be careful about taking it with other opiate painkillers such as dihydrocodeine or tramadol, she adds. "If you are on any other opiates, stick to just the one in order to be careful not to overdose."
What does Sophie take codeine for? "If I have a really pounding migraine, I will reach for some codeine, but I will have tried the other painkillers first."
Aspirin as a painkiller?
This gets the thumbs down from Dr Sophie. She told us subsequently that she didn't rate aspirin as a painkiller, "although it's great for heart attacks and strokes." People at high risk of these, or who have had one may be advised to take a low-dose of aspirin, by their doctor, according to the NHS website . The NHS does however list it as a useful painkiller for conditions such as headaches and toothache, cold and flu. You can read the NHS guidance on aspirin here.
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