Oral analgesics are pain relievers that are taken by mouth. Any type of pain relieving medication that is taken orally can be considered an oral analgesic. There are a few different types of oral medications used to relieve pain. Most people take them in pill form, but children and those who have difficulty swallowing pills might opt for a type of liquid painkiller or one that can be dissolved in water. Oral analgesics typically fall into two different categories: nonnarcotic medications that can be purchased over-the-counter and narcotic medications that must be prescribed by a doctor.
Nonnarcotic analgesics can usually be purchased in most stores that carry pharmacy items. These are most often taken for mild or acute pain. Headaches, minor injuries and cold symptoms are common reasons people take over-the-counter oral analgesics. Narcotic medications are typically reserved for chronic or severe pain, such as for post-surgery pain; some injuries; and ongoing, painful conditions.
Acetaminophen, which is commonly known as paracetamol outside of the United States, is one example of a nonnarcotic oral analgesic. Oral analgesics that contain acetaminophen help relieve pain and reduce fevers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are another category of nonnarcotic oral analgesics. Steroids are a class of drugs that reduce inflammation or swelling, but can cause other side-effects that might not be worth the risk in every case; NSAIDs have a similar effect without the use of steroids.
The reduction of swelling will often relieve associated pain. That helps to make NSAIDs helpful for conditions such as arthritis and mild injuries wherein swelling and pain are related. Most NSAIDs can be purchased over-the-counter, but many extra-strength versions require a prescription. Aspirin is an NSAID that is available almost everywhere; another popular NSAID is ibuprofen.
Narcotic oral analgesics require a doctor's prescription in most places. Narcotic pain relievers contain substances found in opium, a drug that is derived from poppy plants. Narcotic ingredients such as codeine or hydrocodone can sometimes cause side-effects that over-the-counter medications typically do not, such as nausea, hallucinations, or extreme drowsiness. The narcotic ingredients also raise the risk of drug dependency in those who use the medication for a long time. Sometimes narcotic ingredients are combined with nonnarcotic pain relievers to enhance the medication's effectiveness.
Another type of oral pain reliever is a topical medication used inside the mouth. This is a numbing agent that is often placed on the gums. Children who are teething or adults with toothaches might use what is called a topical oral analgesic. Most of the time when people refer to oral analgesics, however, they are referring to medications such as those listed above that are swallowed for pain relief.