If it feels like everyone you know is or has recently been sick, you’re probably not far from the truth. Amidst a surge of RSV infections, rising Covid numbers and an increase in flu cases, there’s a lot of illness going around—and a lack of Children’s Tylenol and Children’s Motrin on store shelves to prove it.
For some, it’s been hard to find over-the-counter children’s pain- and fever-reducing medications in recent weeks, resulting in what may be a Children’s Tylenol shortage. But experts are saying that unlike the infant formula shortage families endured earlier this year, it’s not everywhere yet.
What to know about the Children’s Tylenol shortage
“There are spot shortages,” William Schaffner, an infectious-diseases specialist and professor of preventive medicine in the department of health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told The Washington Post. Because RSV and flu “have hit children early and fiercely and simultaneously,” parents have started stocking up on fever reducers, causing “isolated shortages.”
In this case, the shortage seems to be related to high demand and not necessarily supply chain issues. Manufacturers are not reporting supply shortages and say they have the means to get more product on store shelves relatively quickly, though it could still be weeks or months until stock levels get back to normal in some places.
But what should you do if your child spikes a fever now and you’ve run out of cold medicine? Here’s what to know about fevers—and how to safely treat a fever in children.
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What is a fever?
“In most situations there is no need to reduce a fever, and in a few situations you do,” naturopathic doctor Leah Gordon, ND, tells Motherly. “A fever is an intelligent acute phase response of the body to a foreign invader such as a virus or unwelcome bacteria and it helps the immune system fight it. It activates immune cells, increases lymphatic flow, increases helpful chemicals called cytokines, and makes your body less friendly to the virus or bacteria.”
It’s important to know what constitutes a medical-grade fever—that’s anything over 100.4º F when measured temporally or rectally, Dr. Gordon notes.
Anything below that temperature is not considered to be a “true” fever. It’s also good to know that not all fevers need to be treated with fever-reducing medication, especially if your little one doesn’t seem that phased by it and is still sleeping and eating relatively normally.
Related: Flu vaccinations in children and pregnant women are the lowest they’ve been in years, CDC warns
Quelling a fever may not shorten the duration of an illness for most kids, though it may make them more comfortable if they’re seeming sluggish.
“A fever itself is not dangerous unless it gets super high, super quick,” said Joanna Dolgoff, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatricians, to The Post. “In rare cases, this can spark a febrile seizure, which is concerning.”
If your baby is younger than 3 months old and has a fever over 100.4º F, or if your child of any age has a fever reaching 105º F or a history of febrile seizures, call your child’s pediatrician for advice.
What to do if you can’t find Children’s Tylenol or Children’s Motrin
- Look for a generic or store brand. Store brand versions typically have similar formulations and dosing, and are fine to use, doctors note. Look for children’s acetaminophen (generic Tylenol) or children’s ibuprofen (generic Motrin or Advil).
- Check smaller stores. If the big box stores near you are out of stock, try seeking out a smaller pharmacy instead.
- Call your child’s pediatrician. They might have samples on hand or suggestions about where to find more medication, in addition to being able to call a compounding pharmacy for you, who could mix more medication.
Related: 11 must-have products for baby during cold & flu season
How to safely support or reduce a fever in kids
“There are many natural approaches to either reducing a fever, or making the child comfortable while letting a safe fever do its job, which is the ideal situation,” says naturopathic doctor Morgan MacDermott, NMD.
- Offer extra fluids. Because fevers can encourage sweating, it’s key to keep babies and kids hydrated. Your infant may need more breast milk or formula, and older toddlers and kids may need more water or electrolyte liquids like Pedialyte.
- Keep their room cool. A low fan or cool mist humidifier can help keep cool (but not cold!) air circulating.
- Dress them lightly. Light clothing can help ensure they don’t get too hot.
- Try a tepid bath. “This is a form of gentle hydrotherapy,” says Dr. Gordon. “Kids can sit in a bath where the water is between 90º F to 95º F. It helps regulate the body’s temperature.” Of course, never leave a baby or young child unattended in the bath. Similarly, a cool, wet cloth on the back of the neck can bring relief, especially if a headache is involved, adds Dr. MacDermott.
- Layer on wet socks. It sounds counterintuitive, but at the first sign of illness, soak a pair of cotton socks in cold water and put them on your child. Then cover them with a pair of dry wool socks and put them to bed. “This is another gentle and effective form of hydrotherapy to support the body’s healing response and can help to modulate a fever by moving body heat down to the feet,” says naturopathic doctor Elana Roumell, ND.
- Stay skin-to-skin. “Holding your naked little one on your bare skin is another way that the body can regulate itself during a fever and also helps them stay comfortable,” shares Dr. Gordon.
- Try herbal support. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) are gentle fever-reducing herbal medicines that are safe for use in kids and can slowly reduce a fever. Talk to a naturopathic doctor to ask about appropriate dosing for lemon balm and chamomile tea or a lemon balm glycerite as a natural fever reducer for kids.
Children’s medication safety tips to keep in mind
- Children should never take adult fever-reducing medication, due to dosing concerns
- Kids under 17 should never take or be offered aspirin, as it could cause a rare but dangerous condition known as Reye’s syndrome, which can result in swelling in the liver and brain
- Wondering if you can use expired fever-reducing medication for your child? Ask your doctor about using medication that’s only slightly past its expiration date
If you have more questions or concerns about finding Children’s Tylenol or Children’s Motrin for your child, reach out to your pediatrician or pharmacist.
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