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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Codeine is a medicine known as an opioid. It is a painkiller (also known as an analgesic) and is used for the short-term treatment of pain in a range of conditions, including headache, migraine, toothache, period pain, and muscle pain. It can be used by adults and children ages 12 years and over as prescribed by your doctor.

Codeine also comes in combination with other painkillers, namely ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen. These codeine combination products are very effective painkillers.

Codeine can also be used to treat a dry, tickly cough and as is sometimes combined with other medications, such as decongestants or antihistamines.

Who should avoid codeine?

Codeine should not be taken by everyone. There are certain cases where it should be avoided. You should avoid codeine if you have:

  • Respiratory conditions
  • Problems with your adrenal glands
  • Seizures or fits
  • Alcohol dependency
  • An underactive thyroid
  • Kidney problems
  • Liver problems
  • An enlarged prostate (taking medication such as tamsulosin or finasteride)
  • Low blood pressure

Do not take codeine if you have previously had an allergic reaction to codeine or another ingredient listed in the medication. Children under 12 years should not take codeine.

Speak with your doctor or pharmacist before taking codeine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, if you have any medical conditions, or if you have past or current addiction to alcohol or drugs. You should avoid this if you've had an allergic reaction to another opioid in the past.

Codeine can interact with other medicines such as sleeping tablets and other medicines that can cause drowsiness. If you take any prescription, over-the-counter or herbal medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist to check if they are safe to take alongside codeine.

If you are unsure if you can take codeine send our friendly team a message.

Taking codeine with other medicines

It is important to use caution when taking codeine with other medicines. Some medicines can interfere with how codeine works, resulting in potential side effects. You should always inform your doctor of any medications you are taking if you are about to take codeine.

Here are some of the most common medicines and groups that interact with codeine:

  • Alcohol
  • Pain medication - added drowsy effect
  • Sleeping medication
  • Medication for depression
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Anti-sickness medication
  • Allergy medication
  • Anxiety medication
  • Medication for mental health issues

Codeine can also be found in other pain relief medication; it is important to note if any other painkillers you intend to take contain codeine. Taking codeine with acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen is safe as they are different types of painkillers.

Codeine and pregnancy

Codeine can occasionally be used in pregnancy, however it is not recommended for long term use. Taking codeine over long periods of time during pregnancy can increase the risk that your baby will become accustomed to having codeine. This will result in withdrawal symptoms once the baby is born which can be dangerous.

Codeine and breastfeeding

Codeine should not be taken if you are breastfeeding. This can risk passing codeine onto your baby through the breast milk. This can lead to breathing difficulties, as well as drowsiness. You should speak to your doctor if you think you may need to take codeine while breastfeeding. They will go over the pros and cons and see whether it is suitable for you.

Side effects of codeine

Codeine can cause several possible side effects. Most people who take codeine experience no side effects, or just mild side effects.

Common side effects of codeine include:

  • constipation
  • drowsiness
  • headaches
  • confusion
  • feeling sick
  • breathing difficulty
  • vomiting
  • dry mouth
  • sweating
  • vertigo

Although more uncommon, serious side effects of codeine include:

  • muscle stiffness
  • symptoms of low blood pressure (feeling dizzy and tired)

If you experience drowsiness, it is best to avoid driving as well as drinking alcohol. If you experience any unwanted side effects, then you may need to speak to your doctor or pharmacist to access the next best options.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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