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Children’s Tylenol shortage cause for concern amid tripledemic. Here’s what parents can do

December 9, 2022, 2:30 PM UTC
Sick boy with thermometer laying in bed and mother hand taking temperature. Mother checking temperature of her sick son who has thermometer in his mouth. Sick child with fever and illness while resting in bed.
Fever-reducing medications are hard to find.
Ridofranz—Getty Images

Just months after a formula shortage rocked parents’ world this summer, decreased availability of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) for children is drawing concerns amid a tripledemic of flu, COVID and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).

“I just saw a post on our local neighborhood Facebook group with a photo of a wiped-out children’s acetaminophen section from a local pharmacy, asking where they should look next,” says Anna Patil, a Brooklyn mom of two. “That’s pretty scary and is making me want to ration our OTC meds a little.”

Is there a shortage of children’s Tylenol and Motrin?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not currently reporting shortages of children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen. And Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Children’s Tylenol and Children’s Motrin, says that there is no nationwide shortage, but there has been an uptick in demand.

The company’s spokesperson Melissa Witt told NPR via email, “Consumer demand for pediatric pain relievers in the U.S. is high, but there are no supply chain issues and we do not have an overall shortage in the U.S.”

Empty shelves at pharmacies tell a different story. 

What parents can do

Dr. Tina Tan, an infectious diseases physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, says that over-the-counter cold and flu medications should only be given when children have a fever or are uncomfortable.

Otherwise, she recommends supportive, or at-home care, which includes rest, hydration, and for babies and toddlers, removal of mucus through nasal suctioning. A cool-air humidifier can also be used to help ease congestion. To treat a cough, honey can be given to children 12 months and older and cough drops are suitable for children between the ages of 6 and 12.

To reduce fevers without the use medication, experts suggest:

  • Giving your child a bath with lukewarm water
  • Keeping your child’s room cool and dressing them in light pajamas
  • Offering your child popsicles or room-temperature water

Tan also advises caregivers look out for the following signs that they need to take their child to the emergency room:

  • high fever isn’t going down with the help of Tylenol or ibuprofen 
  • they’re having to work harder to breath 
  • they’re unable to stay hydrated (which is most noticeable with a decrease of wet diapers in babies and toddlers)
  • symptoms are progressively worsening

Preventive measures, such as vaccinations and washing your hands, can go a long way toward keeping everyone healthy this flu season, Tan says. 

“Most important is to get your infant or child vaccinated against influenza and COVID. Vaccines are effective at preventing the development of severe disease and keeping them out of the hospital,” she says. “Practice good hand hygiene and keep an infant or child at home if they are ill. Don’t let them go to daycare, preschool or school. Sick individuals probably should wear masks in home if they are unable to physically distance themselves from others in the home that are at risk for severe disease.” 

In the meantime, parents are advised to wait it out.

“There is nothing specific other than time that will help an infant or child go over most viral infections,” says Tan.

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