What Parents Can Do, From Pediatricians


  • There are shortages of liquid medication for children, such as Children’s Tylenol.
  • Illnesses like RSV, flu, and COVID-19 make it hard for suppliers to keep up with demand.
  • Parents should never give children younger than 18 aspirin to treat symptoms.

Most parents of school-age children know that along with the fall and winter months comes a slew of respiratory illnesses cycling through the entire family.

There won’t be a time when everyone is well in the household, thanks to the petri dishes that are day cares and schools. But right now, it seems like all the respiratory illnesses for children are hitting at once, and this is causing major problems, like keeping our hospitals packed with sick kids and worried parents.

On top of that, in some areas of the US, there are major shortages of medications used to treat cold and flu symptoms. Liquid Children’s Tylenol is flying off the shelves rapidly, and parents are understandably frantic. While the FDA hasn’t reported shortages yet, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has listed some oral ibuprofen to be in shortage. Parents on social media have been saying they can’t find any in their local pharmacies.

Here’s what parents can do about the shortage.

Why is there a Children’s Tylenol shortage?

There’s a triple-threat wave going on with flu, respiratory syncytial virus, and COVID-19, said Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Of course, plenty of other cold viruses are present as well, and as a result, many children need pain and fever reducers, he said.

Why does it seem like the perfect storm of viruses all of the sudden? This year is worse because we are in the post-pandemic era, Ganjian said.

“During the pandemic, people were not getting sick with the common viruses due to good hygiene, masks, and social distancing,” he said. “As a result, everyone’s antibody levels to cold viruses have decreased. Now that people are getting back to normalcy, these viruses are spreading.”

Because all these illnesses are hitting at once, it’s hard for suppliers of these medications to keep up with demand, said Dr. Gina Posner, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.

“The most prevalent illnesses we are facing are RSV, influenza, COVID, rhinovirus, parainfluenza, and adenovirus,” Posner said.

What can parents do about the Children’s Tylenol shortage?

If you search in smaller stores and buy the generic brand of these medications, Posner said, you’ll usually be able to find it.

“You also can’t be too picky about wanting the dye-free, a certain flavor only, or a certain brand,” she said.

Ganjian added that most chain pharmacies had their own versions of children’s Tylenol, which contains the same active ingredient — acetaminophen.

“You can use other pain and fever-reducing medications such as Advil and Motrin, or the generic of ibuprofen, for children over 6 months old,” he said.

Another key point for parents to remember, according to Posner, is that your child may not even need the medication in the first place.

“Having a fever is OK,” she said. “I only recommend treating it if your child feels miserable.”

Other ways to lower your child’s fever include keeping your child’s room cool, dressing them in light clothing, making sure they drink plenty of fluids like Pedialyte, and giving them a popsicle to suck on, Posner said.

But if you are in search of Children’s Tylenol and striking out, you may be looking for an alternative.

Which medications are not safe for children?

No matter what, Posner said, never use aspirin to treat symptoms in children younger than 18. The Mayo Clinic says aspirin has been linked with Reye’s syndrome — swelling in the liver and brain that causes liver and brain damage — in children and teens with an underlying condition and it can cause confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

Parents shouldn’t use NSAIDs like Advil or Motrin in children under 6 months old, and they should stay away from giving adult-strength medications to children “unless you are following the dosing guidelines on the package or have spoken to a healthcare professional,” Ganjian said.

How to prevent these respiratory illnesses

It may be time to whip out that mask that you cheerfully put away this year and start to practice the same preventive measures we took during the beginning of the pandemic. “Masking works,” Posner said emphatically, adding that everyone should be washing their hands frequently and being mindful of where they’re going for family outings.

“If you take your kid to an indoor gym or play place, it’s super likely they will catch something,” she said. “This would be the time I would limit things like that.”

Posner also suggested this no-brainer piece of advice: Avoid hanging out with sick people.

“It is amazing how many parents I have that say that they got together with a family member that was sick and they are shocked that their child is now sick,” she said.

Getting vaccinated for the viruses there are vaccines for is also an important step in keeping your children safe and healthy during this uptick in respiratory illness, according to a transcript of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention media telebriefing event held this month.





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