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Panadol, Panamax, and Paracetamol?

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Making the right choice can feel painful. It shouldn’t.

Would you rather …?

No question is more surprisingly controversial than one that starts with ‘Would you rather…?’

It sounds innocent enough.

  • Would you rather Thai food or a pizza for dinner?
  • Would you rather lounge by the lagoon or hike up the mountain? 
  • Would you rather watch one more episode or clean the kitchen?

But behind the ‘Would you rather’ lurks a whole complex world of assumptions, preferences, and beliefs. That’s why those seemingly simple questions can transport you into a world of tension. 

If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you and a partner easily and amicable chose what to get for takeout. If you’re old enough, think about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into choosing which new new release to rent from your local Blockbuster. 

Do you suggest …?

There is a cousin of the ‘Would your rather?’ question. 

It is the ‘Do you suggest?’ question, and this is the version that most often gets directed to your friendly neighbourhood chemist.

  •       Do you suggest an anti-dandruff shampoo with sulphide or zinc as the active ingredient?
  •       Do you suggest SPF 40 or SPF 50?
  •       Do you suggest an ear thermometer or one of those zappy ones? (I would gently clarify that by ‘one of ‘those zappy one’, you mean a forehead thermometer with radar technology.)

Then there is ‘Do you suggest’ question that comes from a place of pain – literally.

Do you suggest panadol or panamax?

A rose by any other name

The panadol vs panamax question is the hard taco vs soft taco conundrum of the pharmaceutical world.

To help answer the question, I want you to think back to your Year 9 English class. Don’t worry – we won’t be here for long. We’re just paying a brief visit to a lesson on Romeo and Juliet.

I’ll cut to the chase: Romeo should be happy. He’s in love! Cue all the good emotions.

But in fact, the reverse is true: he’s devastated.

His crush is Juliet, and she is from the dreaded Capulet family. The Capulets are the sworn enemy of Romeo’s Montague clan.

Romeo talks about how ridiculous that a name should separate them. After all, name’s do not matter, substance matters: ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’

Let me take us out of the English classroom and back into the here and now.

Forget about the names of Panadol and Panamax. Instead, think about their substance.

The active ingredient in both is paracetamol.

Now, both Panadol and Panamax will tell you all about their unique properties. You can read about these yourself.

But let’s talk about paracetamol.

In short, paracetamol is used primarily for pain and relief of fever. Paracetamol is used by Australians to help manage things like:

  • Back pain
  • Toothaches 
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Pains arising from the cold and the flu

You probably already know that!

Here’s something you might not know: paracetamol has been used in Australia for around seventy years. You didn’t just inherit your great-grandfather’s wavy hair (apologies to my balding friends; I feel your pain), you also share his pain relief product. 

It’s nice to know that you’re not trusting your health to the new kid on the block. Paracetamol has been around for a while, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon – whether it’s paracetamol in Panadol, or paracetamol in Panamax. 

Managing pain

When it comes to managing pain, paracetamol products might be right for you. The TGA regulates all products in Australia with active ingredients, and it suggests that paracetamol can be a safe medicine for pain relief when used as per the directions of the label, and when not used with any other medicine containing paracetamol at the same time. You should also be aware that paracetamol products – whether panadol or panamax – are not suitable for some people, so make sure you speak to your GP if you have any concerns.

What about headaches?

I thought I’d end by talking about headaches. No, it’s not because I love ending on a bitter note. Instead, it’s because headaches are a common ailment. If you have a head, you’ve had a headache. Many Australians take paracetamol to relieve pain from headaches (following the instructions on the label closely, of course!).

Headaches can be caused by:

  •       Dehydration
  •       Lack of sleep (so please, please, please switch of Netflix and crawl into bed!)
  •       Hormonal changes

Along these, headaches can be the result of:

  •       Stress
  •       Squinting at a screen
  •       Sitting in an uncomfortable position

While I hate mentioning the p-word (‘pandemic’, in case you have somehow managed to erase it from your mind), you shouldn’t be too surprised if your headaches have seemed worse over the past few years. Bad posture from sitting at a computer? Check. Squinting at a screen? Check. Stress? Sadly, that one goes without saying.

Of course, these lifestyle factors need to be addressed. I suggest that you speak to a trusted health professional about them.

In the short term, when experiencing a headache, you might consider the five Rs:

  1. Relax. Move to a pleasant, well-ventilated room with plenty of natural sunlight. Open the window and let a breeze roll through.
  2. Refresh. Splash your face with cool water. Be gentle: you don’t need to create a mini-Niagara Falls at your bathroom sink. Alternatively, dampen a cloth and wipe your face, or rest it on your forehead.
  3. Rehydrate. Ensure that you drink enough water throughout the day. Keep a water bottle on your desk to act as a visual reminder (and to make it as easy as possible to keep your fluids up during the day!). Prioritise water over soft drink.
  4. Reset. Are your symptoms improving? Consider kickstarting your day again. Get back into your routine.
  5. Request advice from your health professional or pharmacist. This is particularly important if your headache is severe or prolonged, if it effects your senses, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms. Be aware that there are times when the severity of headache or accompanying symptoms make it appropriate to call an ambulance or go to a hospital.

Short questions, long answers

I suppose I have given a long answer to a short question! If I can put it very simply, the truth is that I don’t have a horse in the Panadol vs Panamax race. When pain comes knocking, many people reach for paracetamol – Panadol or Panamax.

In most cases, it comes down to another p-word: preference.