Parents are beginning to feel the strain caused by the recent and rapid surge of pediatric cases of respiratory illnesses including COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and influenza (flu). Pediatrician appointments are becoming harder to get, ER wait times are getting longer, and parents are finding it more difficult than usual to find children’s pain and fever relievers due to the increased demand triggered by the surge in cases. While there is currently not a widespread shortage of these children’s medicines in the United States, the temporary “out-of-stocks” of these products at stores can understandably feel frustrating, especially when you need to care for a sick child.
Dr. Katie Friedman, a board-certified pediatrician and mom, is here to ease parents’ fears and provide some helpful advice on how to best stay healthy during flu season, the importance of responsible purchasing, plus some self-care options and alternatives to provide comfort and relief.
1. Rest assured.
It is important to know that although some products may not be as readily available, there is no current widespread shortage of children’s medicines, including liquids. While some stores may be experiencing temporary out-of-stocks on shelves due to the high demand, the companies that make these medicines are operating at peak capacity, running production lines 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to safeguard the U.S. supply and help families get what they need.
2. Do not stock up.
Please do your part this flu season and only buy what you need. While there is not currently a widespread shortage of these products, if parents start “stocking up”, other families will find it harder to get what they need. It is important that in times of great stress, we work hand-in-hand with our neighbors. Talk with your pediatrician about the appropriate amount of medicine needed to get your child through this cough, cold, and flu season.
3. Make sure your child actually has a fever.
Your little one might feel warm, but that does not mean they have a fever. A child’s temperature will vary throughout the day and with different activity levels. Most children will have higher temperatures later in the afternoon and into the early evening. If you are starting to suspect that your child may have a fever, then you should check their temperature. The most accurate way to take a child’s temperature is with a rectal thermometer. A true fever is anything over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. If your child does not have a temperature over 100.4 degrees, you do not need to treat it with fever reducing medicine. This will allow you to save these products for when you really need them. Always take your child’s temperature before treating them with any type of medicine.
4. A fever is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to understand the warning signs.
A fever is the body’s natural way of fighting off infection. Having a fever is actually a good sign that your body’s immune system is strong and having an appropriate response. Many parents feel that a high temperature can cause damage to the brain or body, which is not the case. There are many reasons why your child may have a fever, but it can make them very uncomfortable, especially when they start to have decreased activity and are not eating or drinking as much. Treat your child’s symptoms and not a number. If your child is happy and playful, even with a fever, it might not be necessary to treat it. If your child is feeling down and uncomfortable, then consider treating them with fever reducing medicines as it will make them more comfortable and willing to drink fluids. Speak with your healthcare provider or pediatrician about how to determine when there’s an emergency and when it might be a good idea to head to the ER vs. staying home.
5. Try a chewable or pill.
If your child is over the age of two, it is okay to use chewable medication. Before you do, confirm your child’s appropriate dose with a pediatrician or other health professional first and always read the Drug Facts label. You might find that your toddler prefers a chewable over liquid medicine. In addition to introducing this new method to medicate your child, it will increase the supply of liquid medicine for parents of children under 2 who cannot take the chewable form. For children older than 10, you may be able to introduce different types of smaller, swallowable pills.
6. Be careful with multi-symptom medication.
Many times, multi-symptom medicine will have a fever reducer as an active ingredient. Before offering your child an over-the-counter multi-symptom solution, remember to always read the drug facts label first to ensure correct dosage. Make sure you are not double dosing as some over-the-counter cough and cold medicines contain acetaminophen. According to a study conducted by the National Institute for Health (NIH), eight in 10 parents has given the wrong dose of liquid medicine by accident. Only use the dosing device that comes with the medicine to ensure proper dosing. Never use a kitchen spoon. Always remember to dose your child based on their weight, not their age. When in doubt, contact your pediatrician for dosing advice.
7. Ask your pediatrician for help if your child has a fever, and you are unable to locate fever reducing medication.
Often, pediatric offices will have samples available. If you find yourself in an urgent care or emergency room, you may want to ask your care provider if they can prescribe fever reducing medication.
8. Don’t be scared of store brands.
Drug stores and grocery stores will often have a store brand alternative to the well-known name brand product, and they typically contain the same active ingredient. Just make sure that you check the ingredients before making your decision and remember to dose appropriately.
9. Ask a friend.
If your area stores have low supplies of children’s ibuprofen or acetaminophen, ask a family member or friend to look in their local stores. Areas that are less populated with young families may have a larger supply of children’s medicine due to the lower demand.
10. More than just medicine can help your child.
Keep their room comfortably cool, encourage them to drink water or an electrolyte solution from the store. And of course, if your little one is sick, keep him or her away from other children to keep germs from spreading.