Tylenol, Motrin shortage: Children’s fever medicine in short supply

Children’s fever-reducing medications are getting harder to find, but for most kids, a fever isn’t inherently dangerous.

Sales of pediatric formulations of drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen went up 26% nationwide in October 2022 compared to the same month last year, according to NPR.

While there’s no problem in manufacturing the drugs, sold as Tylenol and Motrin, above-average demand has led to empty store shelves in some places. King Soopers grocery stores have limited customers to buying two children’s pain and fever products at a time.

Fevers can be dangerous in infants, especially those under 3 months old, because their immune systems are immature and they haven’t had most of their shots, said Dr. Christine Jelinek-Berents, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado. If a newborn has a fever, parents should call their doctor immediately, she said.

For older children, however, the decision to treat a fever depends on symptoms, Jelinek-Berents said. If a child feels mostly well and is behaving normally, it’s not necessary to give them medication for the fever, even if it’s a high fever, she said.

“We really use ibuprofen and acetaminophen for comfort,” she said. “It doesn’t shorten the number of days that they have the fever.”

If parents think their child needs fever medication, but can’t find a pediatric product, they should call their doctor about whether giving a smaller amount of an adult product is an option, Jelinek-Berents said. They shouldn’t try to calculate the dose at home, because too much acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be toxic, she said.

Young children should never take aspirin for a fever because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, which can damage the liver and brain.

Non-drug options to reduce fever include dressing children in light clothes, keeping rooms cool and giving them water or electrolyte drinks, Jelinek-Berents said. The exception is children younger than six months, who shouldn’t have fluids other than breastmilk, formula or electrolyte beverages like Pedialyte, she said.

“Their kidneys don’t quite know what to do with free water” in infancy, she said.

Fevers can be frightening for parents, especially if their child’s temperature seems particularly high or they experience a febrile seizure, though neither scenario causes lasting effects, Jelinek-Berents said. Those who aren’t sure what to do should call their family doctor, especially if they notice other symptoms that concern them, she said.

“We can usually, over the phone, advise what next steps should be,” she said.

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