Why you’re having trouble finding cold and cough medicine, and alternatives to try instead

·4 min read
Mac Engel/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

If you’ve been to the drugstore in recent weeks, you might have noticed medicine shelves that usually stock Benadryl, Claritin and Mucinex are empty.

As more Tarrant County residents get COVID, grocery stores are running low on the cold and cough medicines that help alleviate symptoms.

It’s part of a wider shortage of everyday products like packaged goods, produce and meat across the U.S. Experts attribute it to supply chain issues, labor shortages and panic buying.

Here’s why you’re having trouble finding cold and cough medicine at the grocery store, and what health experts recommend you try instead if you have COVID, flu, allergies or just the crud.

Why can’t I find cold and cough medicine?

Flu season, the COVID-19 omicron variant surge and cedar fever are hitting Texans all at once — and creating an increased demand for cold and flu remedies that help manage their symptoms.

Supply chain disruptions — caused by labor shortages and pandemic-related backups — are also to blame for bare medicine shelves, says Michael Esquivel, Logistics and Supply Chain Management department head at Tarrant County College.

More production workers are not going to work because they’re sick, and that’s causing significant delays.

“Right now, the COVID variant is really hitting labor with absenteeism, so that’s impacting manufacturing. If they have to run shorter shifts or cancel production shifts, that could cause delays in getting the right amount of products to grocery stores,” Esquivel said.

Also, more distribution facilities have been shutting down during the pandemic. DHL Supply Chain, an international company, had to shut down several facilities across the country and lay off workers.

“All that is causing issues in getting products directly to the consumer,” Esquivel said.

Another part of the issue is panic buying, Esquivel said. People who don’t need medicine are stocking up out of worry and uncertainty.

“Consumers do react in a certain way that’s logical, but also maybe emotional,” Esquivel said. “They want to start hoarding products.”

When will medicine be back in stock?

As soon as stores run out of products, they submit orders to their manufacturer to replenish the stock. But it might take a little while for those shelves to get restocked.

It could take a couple of weeks, Esquivel said. But there could be a delay if there’s severe weather.

While grocery stores like Walmart have efficient production and transportation processes that will help them restock the medicine quickly, Esquivel said, stores like Target with less high-volume production could see more shortages in their aisles and take longer to restock their inventory.

Overall, supply chain disruptions are expected to last through 2022.

What should I do instead?

Try searching online on Amazon and other online stores for cold and flu medicine instead of hitting several stores, Esquivel recommends. If all stores are out of cough syrup and cold medicine, here’s how to soothe your COVID, flu, cold or allergy symptoms.

First, know that you don’t necessarily need them, and there are other ways to feel better.

“Over-the-counter remedies are helpful, but it won’t hurt us to not use them,” Isabel Valdez, physician assistant and assistant professor of internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says. “Those medications, they’re there to support us and maybe help us feel better faster with symptoms that will inevitably go away with time and fluids and rest.”

Here’s how to handle your symptoms without medicine, Valdez says:

  • Drink tea with honey or turmeric. Honey has been shown to alleviate symptoms, and turmeric reduces inflammation.

  • Get lots of rest and fluids. Make sure to drink a lot of fluids so you don’t get dehydrated and get a lot of sleep. Try not to exert too much energy walking or exercising.

  • Try to eat several meals a day; more calories will help your body fight a virus.

  • Immediately call your doctor if you have difficulty breathing, nagging cough, prolonged fever, chest heaviness, nausea and diarrhea, dizziness or palpitations.

  • See your doctor if your symptoms persist for two weeks or more. Symptoms usually last about a week.

What should you do if you end up finding cold medicine?

“Don’t grab a whole case of it,” Esquivel recommends. “If you don’t have any at home, I’d say replenish, maybe buy two bottles.”