If you have young children, you are probably seeing a lot more of them around the house lately when they are supposed to be at school or daycare. What some call the “triple pandemic,” the flu, RSV, and COVID-19 all hit at the same time.
“As a parent of kids, it seems like we’ve had a kid at home, you know, who’s missed school for most of the last month or so. It seems like the poor kids are going through the wringer with all the sicknesses this season,” said Jason Miller, who not only looks after his kids but also oversees more than three dozen Coborns-Cashwise pharmacies, which have some over-the-counter medications are scarce.
“A lot of people have been sick and that’s really what’s causing these shortages,” Miller said.
Liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen, often under the brand names Tylenol and Motrin, are hard to find. The liquid suspension forms of these over-the-counter medicines are most commonly given to children who are too young to take pills.
“We are overwhelmed with basic services. Our emergency supplies are full,” said Dr. Shannon Neale, GP at HealthPartners and Park Nicollet.
Neale said she understands why parents often turn to acetaminophen and ibuprofen when their children are sick, but says in many cases these drugs aren’t as necessary as many people think.
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“We’ve all lived for many years without the luxury of having these drugs with us, even Advil and Tylenol,” Neale said. “So it’s definitely possible to get through cold and flu season without having a plethora of different suspensions out there.”
Neale advised parents to turn to home remedies if they can’t find pediatric medicine at the store.
“Things for cough people could try would be some honey mixed with some lemon water — like a teaspoon or two of honey mixed with some warm water with a little bit of lemon in it,” Neale said. “The caution with honey, however, is that it should not be used on children under the age of one.”
Other remedies on the list include: gargling with salt water, taking hot showers, using humidifiers, extra pillows, and drinking plenty of water.
“All of these things can help you feel better and fight off the virus better,” Neale said.
Experts also recommend getting flu shots and staying up to date on COVID-19 boosters. And they say if you’re sick, stay home.
Beth Thielen, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, cautioned parents against trying to use smaller portions of adult medicine for children given the shortage.
“I don’t want people to do it alone,” said Thielen. “One of the key factors for children is that the dosage really depends on their size and there is a risk of over- or under-dosing. And probably the most dangerous thing would be drug overdose. We don’t want that.”
When needed, health care providers can write prescriptions for children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen to ensure dosages are appropriate, Thielen noted.
Jason Miller said he expects children’s medications to run out in the months leading up to the end of cold and flu season. The best way to keep kids and adults comfortable is to prevent them from getting sick in the first place, he said, noting nervously that there’s a tried-and-true strategy for doing this.
“Masking, and it’s become such a taboo subject,” he said. “But we’ve seen fewer infections during the seasons when we’ve been masked and socially distancing.”