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However, specific advice not to mix paracetamol and ibuprofen came in guidelines issued last year by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence.
These say either drug may be used to help children who are distressed or unwell, but they should not be given alternately because of a lack of evidence about whether it is safe.
The study, published today online in the British Medical Journal, involved 156 children aged between six months and five years who had fever. One was given paracetamol plus ibuprofen, another got paracetamol only, and a third group ibuprofen only.
Researchers from the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England found that over a 24-hour period children given both medicines had fever for 4.4 hours less than those given just paracetamol, and 2.5 hours less than those given ibuprofen alone.
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Helping hand: Alternate medicines 'shorten illness'Traditionally parents have tended to prefer paracetamol to quell fever symptoms, and it is contained in many over-the-counter products for babies and pre-school children.Ibuprofen blocks the production of various chemicals in the body which come in response to injury or disease and cause inflammation.Paracetamol blocks a different enzyme in the brain and spinal cord involved in the transmission of pain.Around 70 per cent of young children are affected by fever each year.Although most fevers will settle by themselves, a few are caused by serious infections such as meningitis or pneumonia.