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What Is Topical Ibuprofen?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), similar to aspirin, that is intended to alleviate pain. Topical ibuprofen is a gel or cream that is applied to the skin, rather than swallowed as a pill. It may help relieve muscular pain as well as pain from mild sports injuries, arthritis, and sprains. While this medicine may be available over-the-counter, patients must be careful not to exceed dosage instructions, or they may risk serious side effects and complications.

Dosage instructions may vary, depending on the selected brand's concentration of the drug. Patients should apply no more than one dose to the affected area of the body. It should be massaged into the skin in a thin layer. Patients must be careful to thoroughly wash their hands immediately following each application.

Topical ibuprofen is not intended for use near the eyes, mouth, or nose. It should not be applied to areas of skin that are burned, abraded, or otherwise damaged. Patients should leave the affected area of skin free of bandages or other tight coverings. They should also avoid tanning beds and excessive exposure to strong sunlight, as topical ibuprofen can make the skin more sensitive. This medicine is not intended for use by a child under the age of 14, unless a physician directs otherwise.

Patients must use a maximum of one dose of topical ibuprofen no more than every four hours. They must not exceed a total of four doses in 24 hours, and should not usually be used longer than two weeks, unless a doctor directs otherwise.

Topical ibuprofen used to relieve pain may cause some side effects, which should be reported to a physician if they are severe or persistent. These may include reddening or itching of the skin at the affected area. People who notice a rash should discontinue use of the drug and consult their physicians.

Some patients may experience an allergic reaction, which may present with swelling and hives. Those with asthma may experience worsening problems breathing. Skin disorders may occasionally result, which may include bullous dermatoses, which cause blisters and lesions; purpura, which is a red or purple discoloration; and angiodema, which is a swelling beneath the skin.

Before using topical ibuprofen, patients should discuss their other medical conditions, medications, and supplements with their pharmacists or doctors. It may be contraindicated for use by those with kidney disease, certain allergies, or those who have asthma or other breathing problems. Those who have a history of reactions from NSAIDs should avoid this medicine. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult their doctors before using it. Topical ibuprofen may interact with blood thinners, including oral NSAIDs.

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