With fears of a tripledemic being realized and cases of RSV, flu, and COVID-19 rising across the country, many parents report having trouble finding Tylenol, Motrin, and other fever-reducing drugs for kids in stores and online. Amazon has limited stock, while Walgreens and CVS websites are constantly sold out.
But is there a shortage of Tylenol, Motrin and similar drugs for children? If you’re having trouble finding over-the-counter fever reducers for kids, you’re not alone. But as far as deficiency is concerned, the answer is actually a bit complicated. Here’s what you need to know.
Is There a Shortage of Tylenol and Motrin for Kids?
It depends who you ask. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shares information online about drug shortages reported to the agency. Currently, the FDA reports no shortages of Children’s Tylenol or the generic name acetaminophen, nor have there been reports of shortages of Children’s Motrin or the generic name ibuprofen.
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But the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), which analyzes information from manufacturers and other sources, notes that there is a shortage of some forms of oral ibuprofen. The organization also lists acetaminophen suppositories as a deficiency, but it’s important to note that most children take the medication orally.
“ASHP tends to be slightly ahead of FDA reporting on deficiencies,” says Stephanie Field, MBA, director of pharmacy business at Corewell Health West. “If ASHP shares it, it will soon be on the FDA list.”
Doctors have also witnessed the shortage. “Ibuprofen liquid and chewable tablets have been hard to come by,” says Joanna Young, Pharm.D., a clinical pharmacy specialist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. “Acetaminophen suppositories and liquid are also hard to come by.”
Michael Bauer, MD, medical director and pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, agrees. “While there is no official shortage of these drugs, there are some local shortages of these drugs that are being reported by our clinicians and families looking for them,” he says.
As a result, says Young, “We have taken several measures to ensure that we can continue to deliver to all of our patients. For example, we recommended that providers use chewable tablets when they can reserve the liquid for patients who cannot take tablets, such as infants.
Why is it difficult to find Tylenol and Motrin for kids right now?
Since there is no official shortage, it’s hard to know for sure. However, there are a few theories. “Tylenol is used regularly to treat fever in pediatrics and there’s been an increase in childhood illnesses as we’ve seen with RSV,” says Field.
People can also buy more of these medications to be prepared in case their child gets sick, says Danelle Fisher, MD, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “People buy it because they’re nervous and see more respiratory disease in other kids,” she says. “When there are times when you know things can get bad, people tend to stock up.”
Is It OK To Use Adult Tylenol And Motrin For Kids?
Experts advise against this. “Adult drugs should not be used as an alternative,” says Field. Why? The dosage is different and it’s easy to get it wrong when switching from an adult dose to a children’s dose, Dr. Fisher. “This makes me nervous because there could be acetaminophen overdose, which can affect the liver,” she says. “You want to be very careful about what you’re doing.”
Dr. Fisher also notes this: “When we talk about adult doses, it’s not necessarily one-to-one with children’s medications.”
What should you do if you can’t find Tylenol or Motrin for kids?
Dr. Fisher emphasizes that if your child has a fever, you don’t necessarily need to give him medication. “Fever isn’t a bad thing — it’s a good thing,” says Dr. Fisher. “It’s the body’s adaptive way of getting rid of whatever germs it has.”
Instead, she recommends that you “treat discomfort,” such as if your child has a headache or feels pain tied to a fever. “That’s worth treating,” says Dr. Fisher. “But if your child is happy, eating well and drinking well, I don’t care what the number on the thermometer is — you don’t need to treat it.”
It’s important to note that not all doctors share this view, and not every child’s health is the same. Be sure to consult your doctor before making any treatment decisions.
Still, there are a few other options for medication. King suggests looking into pediatric chewable and orally dissolving tablets, provided your child is old enough for these. (Typically, these are recommended for ages two and up.)
Suppositories are also usually an option, says Dr. Fisher, but some acetaminophen suppositories are currently deficient, according to the ASHP. “It’s also possible to crush up chewable tablets and give them in pudding, apple juice, or applesauce,” says Jamie Alan, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University. (She just recommends you consult your pediatrician before going this route.)
Dr. Fisher recommends also considering generic versions of your usual medications, if they are available. “You don’t have to have brand names — you can have generic ones,” she says. “It’s exactly the same active ingredients.”
And if larger stores around you don’t have the medications you need, Dr. Fisher to visit smaller stores near you. “Sometimes the convenience stores don’t have the shortages that the bigger stores have,” she says.
Finally, you can talk to your pediatrician or local pharmacist for advice, says Field — they may be able to refer you to a store that stocks your medication.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamor and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives on the beach, and hopes to one day own a teacup pig and a taco truck.