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.

Many feeling supply chain woes at pharmacy as cold and flu season ramps up

Some children's medications, including Children's Tylenol, are in short supply. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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. 

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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. A prescription is not required in Ontario. 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 | Some parents turn to internet to find scarce children's meds:

Parents warned not to hoard children’s meds amid shortage

4 months ago
Duration 2:37
Parents are growing increasingly worried about the lack of children’s fever medication available on shelves, but pharmacists say these medications can be made in a pharmacy and not to panic.

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, licensed pharmacists like Tadrous custom make it for patients in a process called compounding. The process involves key checks of consistency throughout, compounding the medication to ensure quality, and creating a suspension with the right dose and consistency. 

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.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Tuesday that officials understand manufacturers' concerns. But, he said, "they also need to understand that this is essential medicine to our families."

With files from CBC's Christine Birak and Marcy Cuttler


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