The Truth about codeine

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  • Have you asked yourself what is codeine?
  • Codeine works by stopping pain signals from travelling along the nerves to the brain.
  • The most common side effects of codeine are constipation, feeling sick (nausea) and feeling sleepy.
  • It’s possible to become addicted to codeine, but this is rare if you’re taking it to relieve pain and your doctor is reviewing your treatment regularly.
  • It may be best not to drink alcohol while taking codeine as you’re more likely to get side effects like feeling sleepy.
  • Do not give codeine to children under 12 years old. Only give codeine to children aged 12 to 18 years if everyday painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen haven’t worked.

Who can and can’t take codeine

Codeine can be taken by adults and children aged 12 years and older.

Only give codeine to children (aged 12 to 18 years) if everyday painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen haven’t worked.

Codeine is not suitable for some people. Tell your doctor before starting the medicine if you have:

  • had an allergic reaction to codeine or any other medicines in the past
  • a lung problem
  • a head injury
  • adrenal gland problems
  • an illness which causes seizures
  • an addiction to alcohol
  • an underactive thyroid gland
  • kidney or liver problems
  • gallstones
  • an enlarged prostate
  • low blood pressure
  • myasthenia gravis (a rare illness that causes muscle weakness)
  • symptoms of ulcerative colitis (a bowel condition)

Do not give codeine to children who are under 18 years old and have had their tonsils or adenoids removed because of a sleep problem called obstructive sleep apnoea.

Codeine is not generally recommended in pregnancy. Tell your doctor before taking codeine if you’re trying to get pregnant, are already pregnant or if you are breastfeeding.

How and when to take it

It’s important to take codeine as your doctor has asked you to.

Take codeine with, or just after, a meal or snack so it’s less likely to make you feel sick.

You can take codeine at any time of day but try to take it at the same times every day and space your doses evenly.

Different types of codeine

Codeine comes as:

  • tablets – these contain 15mg, 30mg or 60mg of codeine
  • a liquid that you swallow – this contains 25mg of codeine in a 5ml spoonful
  • cough syrup – this contains 15mg of codeine in a 5ml spoonful
  • an injection (usually given in hospital)

If you’re taking codeine as a liquid, it will come with a plastic spoon or syringe to help you measure the correct amount. Ask your pharmacist for one if you don’t have it. Do not measure the liquid with a kitchen teaspoon because it won’t give the right amount.

How much to take

The usual dose of codeine is 15mg to 60mg. You can take this dose up to 4 times a day.

For treating pain:

  • adults usually take one or two 30mg tablets every 4 hours
  • children (aged 12 to 18 years) usually take one or two 30mg tablets (or one or two 5ml spoonfuls of liquid) every 6 hours
  • elderly people or people with kidney or liver problems usually take a 15mg tablet every 4 hours

For treating diarrhoea:

  • adults usually take one or two 30mg tablets (or one or two 5ml spoonfuls of liquid) every 4 hours
  • children (aged 12 to 18 years) usually take one or two 30mg tablets (or one or two 5ml spoonfuls of liquid) every 6 hours
  • elderly people or people with kidney or liver problems usually take a 15mg tablet every 4 hours

For treating a cough: Adults and children usually take one or two 5ml spoonfuls of cough syrup every 4 to 6 hours.

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The Truth about codeine
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