With a “tripledemic” of Covid, flu, and RSV circulating in the U.S. this winter, some parents are struggling to get their hands on go-to fever reducing medications, like Children’s Tylenol or Children’s Motrin. If your child has a fever, it can be panic-inducing to run to the store and not see that familiar bottle of Tylenol on the shelf. We asked a pediatrician what parents can do to keep sick kids comfortable if they encounter a kids’ Tylenol shortage in their area.
Is there a Children’s Tylenol shortage? How long will this last?
Anecdotally, yes, it seems a lot of parents are experiencing this, says Dr. Randolph “Randy” Thornton, a pediatrician with Jacksonville Pediatrics and Wolfson Children’s Hospital. But, “it's a lot like the toilet paper shortage back in 2020. In other words, if you search you will find it,” Thornton reassures. Parents who really need these medicines should shop around, and know that generic medications are perfectly fine in place of name-brands like Tylenol and Motrin, though Thronton adds that it is still important to dose correctly. If you’re ever unsure about the dosing, call your child’s health care provider to confirm the appropriate dosages.
That said, Thornton also encourages parents to consider if these medications are truly needed. “Parents worry if their children are feverish, but you have to remember that a fever is your friend. It kills germs and triggers antibodies. As a fever climbs, kids get those chills and as it goes down they sweat. But fever is safe for most kids, even up to 105,” he reminds us.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also acknowledges that a lot of parents are struggling to find these popular children’s fever-reducing medications, and have shared the following statement on their website: “A ‘tripledemic’ of respiratory viruses is making it harder to find over-the-counter children's pain and fever medications in some areas. Try not to panic if stores near you are out of stock. While fever-reducing medicines can make your child more comfortable, they do not cure illness.”
What can you substitute if you can’t find Children’s Tylenol or Motrin?
Generic medications are excellent stand-ins for familiar brands, says Thornton. “Just generic acetaminophen [the medication in Tylenol] is the way to go. Just read the labels and make sure the strength and the dosing is all right there,” he says. Parents of babies should know that Infants Tylenol and Children’s Tylenol are exactly the same concentration here in U.S., according to Thornton, so if you have an infant and can only find kids’ Tylenol, you can use them interchangeably. If you don’t have a spare medicine dropper for Baby, ask the pharmacist. They may have spares.
If pain is the issue more than fever — say a headache or injury — “Ibuprofen is a good alternative,” says Thornton. However, always confirm appropriate dosages with your child’s health care provider before giving them any medications.
What to do if you can't find kids pain-relief medications
“The biggest thing I want to offer parents is just reassurance. There's a lot of fever-phobia out there, but fever really doesn't always need to be treated,” says Thornton.
However, if you’re really in a pinch and hoping to find ibuprophen or acetaminophen, it can be helpful to get a little creative:
- Try a mom-and-pop shop instead of a big box store
- Ask around. Other parents may be willing to share what they have.
- Call your pediatrician and ask if they have any available, or can suggest local spots that are likely to be well-stocked
Beyond medications, he says that it’s all about just making sure your kid is comfortable as they weather the illness, whether it is flu, Covid or any number of the many viruses that are circulating this winter. “We really suggest tender loving care. Everything our parents and grandparents would have done. Saline to suction out the nose, humidifiers in your child’s room — these things can really help. Keep them hydrated, and offer comfort foods — smoothies, slushies, popsicles.”
This moment may be stressful, but most children will weather it well with lots of love and rest, fluids and snuggles. “I really want to reassure parents: The supply will come back. For now, the same old, same old remedies are what we recommend— a good nights’ sleep, plenty of fluids,” Thornton says.