How long does ibuprofen take to work?

How long does ibuprofen take to work?

Whether you’re recovering from an illness such as pharyngitis or an injury such as a sprained wrist, ibuprofen is a commonly recommended medication that can ease your discomfort[1]. Like paracetamol, it’s often used when treating illness or injury at home, and your GP may suggest it. You don’t need a prescription to buy ibuprofen and it’s available in most supermarkets and pharmacies – but there is usually a restriction on how much ibuprofen you can buy at a time. 

What does ibuprofen do?

In the simplest of terms, ibuprofen is a pain reliever, a medication designed to ease pain and discomfort regardless of its cause. It is a comparatively weak painkiller compared to prescribed medications such as morphine or codeine, but this makes it better suited to treating minor conditions. This means you don’t need to go to the doctor every time you have a headache or sore throat, but can treat it at home instead. 

Ibuprofen is one of a group of medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). As well as relieving pain, these drugs can also combat high temperatures or fevers and reduce swelling – hence the name ‘anti-inflammatory’. Ibuprofen can be taken in a range of different formats, some of which involve ingesting the medicine orally, while others involve applying the medicine to the skin. Typically, ibuprofen is only applied to the skin when the pain is easily reachable and in a very small area. Oral ibuprofen may be more effective for internal pain such as a sore throat[1]

How long does it take for ibuprofen to work?

Chloralieve’s throat lozenges ease the pain of sore throats by releasing a local anaesthetic to soothe your throat. Unlike anaesthetics, ibuprofen works by targeting and reducing the hormones responsible for pain signals. To put it another way, ibuprofen intercepts a message between the location of pain and the brain – the message which tells you it hurts. Although the cause of the pain isn’t addressed, you don’t feel it so much, which allows you to get on with things while your body heals the damage. This also reduces the swelling and raised temperature caused by the damage[2].

But how long does this take? Well, it depends on how you take the ibuprofen. Ingested ibuprofen such as tablets, syrups, powders and capsules can take around 20 to 30 minutes to start working. Gels, creams or mousses you apply to the skin in the painful area take longer – potentially up to two days[1].

Does ibuprofen make you sleepy?

Ibuprofen can cause symptoms which may affect you until the dose wears off. The following side effects of taking ibuprofen orally are described as common, which means more than 1 in 100 people experience them. They’re often mild, but if they have a significant impact on your activities, you may be better off taking an alternative pain medication such as paracetamol. These common side effects include[3]

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Abdominal pain (dyspepsia)

There are various things you can do to ease these symptoms, but it is not recommended that you use other painkillers or antiemetics (drugs that reduce vomiting and nausea) while taking ibuprofen without seeing a doctor first. If you experience dizziness or drowsiness, regardless of the potential cause, you should avoid driving, riding a bike, and operating heavy machinery. This is because your reaction times may be impaired, which could lead to an accident[3]

The listed side effects can also appear after using ibuprofen on the skin, but this is less likely as less of the medication enters your bloodstream. In some cases, however, applying ibuprofen to the skin may make that area of skin more sensitive to sunlight. If this causes problems, you can speak to your doctor about possible solutions[3].