Three kinds of pain relievers are good for first aid kits: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, and topical anasthetic. NSAIDs and acetaminophen can also reduce fevers. All three have distinct strengths and weaknesses.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)This class includes ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. All three are available as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and all three can relieve pain and reduce fevers. All three are also notorious for causing gastric upset in some people.
- Ibuprofen is generally considered the safest of the three for all ages. It relieves muscle aches and pains, and it reduces fever.
- Naproxen is very tough on the stomach, but it is a strong pain reliever that lasts for up to 12 hours.
- Aspirin thins the blood and may cause bleeding problems. It is not for use in kids because it has been linked to Reye's Syndrome.
AcetaminophenThis is the only drug in this class. Its action is not fully understood, but acetaminophen reduces pain and fever without reducing inflammation, which means it does not really help with swelling or redness caused by injury. Acetaminophen has also been shown to be very hard on the liver.
Benzocaine or LidocaineTopical anasthetics like benzocaine or lidocaine are applied directly to skin surfaces or mucous membranes (such as the inside of the mouth) to cause numbing and reduce pain. These drugs do nothing to reduce inflammation or fever and usually do not last very long. They can easily wash off with water. They are very useful for quick treatment of minor scrapes, toothaches, and bug bites.
For more information on choosing the proper pain medication to put in your first aid kit, watch the video from About First Aid: How to Choose a Pain Medication.