What is pain?

Throughout your child’s body there are millions of nerve fibres, some of which end in pain receptors called nociceptors. These nerve fibres are constantly telling your child’s brain what is going on in their body and their environment.

When your little one is ill or hurt, the nociceptors detect the tissue damage and transmit pain signals up the spinal cord and to the brain. At the same time, tissues around the affected area release chemicals called prostaglandins. When prostaglandins are released, they make nearby nerves very sensitive to pain and make these pain signals stronger.

Pain caused by damage to the body’s tissues is sometimes referred to as nociceptive pain. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you need information about other types of pain.

Why do children feel pain?

Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something, somewhere needs some attention.

For example, if your child sprains an ankle, the pain tells them that they’ve hurt something and it needs to be looked at. They can then let you know.

Always speak to your doctor if you are worried or not sure. Depending on your baby or child’s symptoms, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen. Nurofen for Children oral suspensions contain ibuprofen and are suitable for children over 3 months. They can help to relieve pain and reduce fever for up to 8 hours*.

Why do some children feel more pain than others?

Each person has their own individual tolerance for pain. Some children (and many adults) have very high pain thresholds, while others do not.

One reason for this is perception. The brain works by association, so if a child had a particularly painful experience in the past, their brain may link any future pain with this experience. As a result, they may find it more difficult to cope with the new pain.

Pain thresholds are also affected by emotions. If your child is feeling worried, their threshold may be lower. On the other hand, strong emotions, such as excitement or fear, can temporarily stop your child from feeling pain.

How do I know if my child is ill?

Before your child is able to speak, it can be hard to know exactly why they’re upset. You might ask yourself, are they in pain or discomfort? Or is it something else?

Here are some important signs of illness to look out for in your baby or toddler. If you think your child is showing any of these signs or if you are worried for any reason, it is best to get help quickly from your doctor or call 111.

  • unusual crying sounds
  • vomiting and diarrhoea
  • flushed appearance and feels hot
  • temperature above 38°C
  • pale skin
  • breathing quickly and noisily
  • unusually quiet and drowsy

*Autret-Leca et al 2007.