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Tylenol, Bayer, Advil, and Aleve: What’s The Difference?

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Reviewed by: Frank Garber, NP

We’ve all been there: we’re experiencing aches, pains or fever but aren’t sure what medication we should take. At BestMed Urgent Care Clinic, we understand these concerns and the importance of knowing when an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever or fever reducer is appropriate and which one you should take. Keep reading for more information on the different types of OTC medications available and the differences between them. 

Understanding Pain Relievers

The first step to knowing which OTC medication to take is understanding how each works. It’s also important to take into consideration any underlying issues you may have that could potentially affect how your body will react to the medication.

There are four primary OTC drugs that relieve pain and reduce fever: Tylenol, Bayer, Advil and Aleve. Let’s look at each of these and what our walk-in urgent care centers believe are the most appropriate situations to take them.

Bayer (Aspirin), Advil (Ibuprofen) and Aleve (Naproxen)

First, it’s important to note that aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen fall under the category of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Currently, there are more than 20 different NSAIDs available for consumer use. Bayer, Advil and Aleve are typically used to relieve acute pain that’s caused by conditions such as sprains and strains, arthritis and headaches. They are also used to reduce fever.

NSAIDs are generally well-tolerated and effective. However, they are NOT safe to use during pregnancy, and children should not be given aspirin because it is associated with Reyes Syndrome.

Like all medications, NSAIDs can have side effects that affect people differently. NSAIDs may cause upset stomach, ulcers, hypertension and, in extreme cases, liver and kidney damage. Non-aspirin NSAIDs increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke — and the risk is higher if you use more or for longer than directed. It’s therefore important to follow these NSAID safety precautions:

  • Do not take more than one drug containing an NSAID unless under the direction of your medical provider.
  • Read the label of any medication you take and follow the instructions carefully.
  • Ask your health care provider if you have any questions about an NSAID, or if you’re unsure if your medicine is an NSAID.
  • Tell your health care provider if you regularly take OTC NSAIDs.
  • If you take a prescription NSAID, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist before taking OTC NSAIDs.
  • Follow simple guiding principles:
    • Do not take more than directed according to the directions on the bottle or by your medical provider.
    • Use the lowest effective dose for the shortest time necessary.
    • Do not take multiple NSAIDs together.

Tylenol (Acetaminophen)

Acetaminophen, the ingredient in Tylenol, is not an NSAID. Tylenol is primarily used to treat mild pain and fever but does not help with pain that’s related to inflammation. Depending on your situation, medical providers at our urgent care clinics may recommend taking Tylenol with an NSAID for maximum benefit.

Tylenol is considered the safest available OTC pain reliever for pregnant women and can be used in children six months and older. However, it is not safe for people who have liver problems. Always follow these guidelines when taking acetaminophen:

  • Do not take more than one drug containing acetaminophen unless under the direction of your medical provider. Taking too much can cause serious complications.
  • Check labels carefully to avoid doubling up. Many OTC and prescription medications contain acetaminophen, including NyQuil, Excedrin, Alka-Seltzer Plus, Vicodin and more.
  • Take acetaminophen exactly as directed on the package or prescription label.
  • Ask your health care provider if you have any questions about acetaminophen or are unsure if any of your other medications contain it.

When to Visit a Medical Provider

Medications available over-the-counter are often a quick way to safely and effectively get relief from pain or fever. However, we recommend a visit to one of our BestMed Urgent Care Clinics if you experience any of the following:

  • You have a small child with a fever.
    • Children under six months should never be given OTC medication for a fever without first seeing a medical provider.
    • Children six to 24 months can take a fever reducer short-term but should see a medical professional if the fever lasts more than 24 hours.
    • Children two to 12 years old can wait up to three days before seeing a medical provider.
    • Any child with a fever showing signs of dehydration, headache, earache, pain with urination, sore throat, diarrhea or vomiting should visit BestMed in person.
  • Extreme pain
  • A high fever that lasts more than three days.
  • Vomiting or dehydration.
  • Changes in bowel movements or urination.
  • If you think you may have a broken bone
  • You aren’t sure which medications are safe for you to take.

OTC medications for fever and pain can provide excellent relief, but proper use of these medications can be confusing. If you’re not sure of the cause of your discomfort or the best way to alleviate it, visit our walk-in urgent care clinic or check in to our urgent care clinic online. We’ll administer a full assessment and get you back to feeling better in no time!