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Tips for parents on the hunt for kids’ fever-reducing meds

Anxious parents are flooding social media sites in search of fever-reducing medication for their little ones as cold and flu season begins. Pediatricians and pharmacists are trying to reassure them there are options. 

Starting six months ago, some store shelves of pediatric acetaminophen and, later, ibuprofen products — like liquid Tylenol and Advil or chewable tablets —  were bare, according to pharmacists and parents. Health Canada had promised to speak with suppliers earlier this summer about the countrywide shortage.

But clinicians say there’s no need to panic because alternatives exist, and they note help is at hand to talk parents and caregivers through what signs to look for when a child spikes a fever. 

Dr. Sarah Reid, an emergency physician and pediatrician in Ottawa, sees a “significant volume” of patients coming in with viral illnesses, with symptoms like fever or cough, vomiting and diarrhea. 

A woman holds a baby and box of Infants' Tylenol by a stroller.
Infants’ Tylenol and similar products remain in short supply but alternatives exist. (CBC)

“I think that we need to always remember that the vast, vast majority of fevers in young immunized children who were previously healthy are caused by viruses, and they’ll go away on their own,” said Reid, who works at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. 

Reid said it’s important for parents to know that fever is a sign that the immune system is working. What’s more important than the reading on the thermometer, she said, is how the child looks and interacts when the fever is treated.

Backup options exist

The mainstay is to make sure the child is drinking well and using fever-reducing medication to keep them comfortable, Reid said. Rectal suppository versions of fever-reducing medication and adult formulations that pharmacists can adapt or compound for children are available, she said.

Mina Tadrous, an assistant professor at the Leslie Dan faculty of pharmacy at the University of Toronto, says the problem of short supplies of over-the-counter medication to reduce fever hasn’t abated.

“Unfortunately, many people are feeling it,” Tadrous said. “I think as people hear that it might be running short, they might be buying a few extra bottles, and so that also increases the demand,” he said, recalling the toilet paper shortages of the pandemic’s early days.

WATCH | What pharmacies can offer as alternatives:

tips for parents on the hunt for kids fever reducing meds 1

Children’s Tylenol shortage concerning parents

4 months ago

Duration 1:49

A bad cold and flu season, along with the popularity of the Tylenol brand, is causing a shortage of some children’s Tylenol products on store shelves. Experts advise concerned parents not to worry as pharmacies can provide alternatives such as liquid Tylenol.

Tadrous said there are drugs to reduce fever in the pharmacy system, so there’s no need to worry.

“As a backup, if you aren’t able to get the formulations that are available out there, there are ways for pharmacists to compound solutions,” Tadrous said, adding that many but not all pharmacists offer a compounding service.

To compound the drug, Tadrous custom makes it for any patient who comes in using these steps:

The compounded product can’t be stockpiled because it expires faster than commercial versions.

Longer term, supply chains will catch up and there’s no need to stockpile medications at home because it can contribute to the hysteria, Tadrous said.

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