Take Care with Antihistamines and Kids

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Antihistamines

Antihistamines are old standbys for treating allergies. They’re also found in some cough and cold products that contain more than one active ingredient. If you’re thinking about giving an antihistamine to your child, however, use caution. It’s easy to accidentally give a child too much of these drugs, and that can be harmful. Here’s what you need to know about antihistamines and kids.


Antihistamines in a Nutshell

Antihistamines help relieve allergy symptoms, such as itching, sneezing, and a runny nose. They’re sold both over the counter (OTC) and by prescription. Many names may be familiar:

OTC antihistamines (oral)

  • Cetirizine: Zyrtec

  • Chlorpheniramine: Chlor-Trimeton

  • Diphenhydramine: Benadryl

  • Fexofenadine: Allegra

  • Loratadine: Alavert, Claritin

  • Prescription antihistamine (oral)

  • Desloratadine: Clarinex

Prescription antihistamine (nasal)

  • Azelastine: Astelin

Too much antihistamine can cause excessive drowsiness as a side effect. Children may be especially vulnerable to this problem. At times, antihistamines can have the opposite effect, causing agitation. And although it’s uncommon, taking too much antihistamine can also cause breathing problems, leading to decreased oxygen or increased carbon dioxide in the blood.

Read Labels Carefully

Always read the label on an OTC medicine carefully. Just because a product is marketed for children doesn’t mean it’s safe for all situations and ages. Make sure you don’t give more than the recommended dose.

When your child is taking a prescription antihistamine, read the patient package insert or consumer information sheet that comes with it. If you have any questions, ask your pediatrician or the pharmacist.

Avoid Double-Dosing

Sometimes, parents give a cough and cold product to a child who is already taking an antihistamine for allergies. What they may not realize is that some cough and cold products contain an antihistamine as one of the ingredients. In that scenario, the child could wind up taking twice the recommended dose of antihistamine, increasing the risk for problems.

To avoid that mistake, always check the ingredients in cough and cold products. Also, keep a written log of any medicines you give your child, both OTC and prescription, noting the active ingredients. If you’re thinking about giving more than one medicine at a time, ask your pediatrician first about possible interactions.

Don’t Give Them to Infants

Babies are the most vulnerable to accidental overdoses of antihistamines. In some cases, this has even led to death. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions parents never to give an infant or toddler under 2 years old a cough and cold product that contains an antihistamine, except on the advice of the child’s doctor.

Ask your pediatrician about non-drug treatments that can help your little one with a cough or cold feel better. Options include a cool mist humidifier, saline nose drops, and nasal suctioning.

You can’t be too careful where your child’s safety is concerned. Antihistamines may be some of the most familiar—and often helpful—medications on drugstore shelves. But they’re still serious medicine, so handle them with care.

Key Takeaways

  • Antihistamines are often used to treat allergies. They’re also found in some cough and cold products that contain more than one active ingredient.

  • Be careful about giving an antihistamine to your child. It’s easy to accidentally give your child too much of these drugs, and that can be harmful.

  • To avoid giving your child too much of an antihistamine, always check the ingredients in cough and cold products. Also, keep a written log of any medicines you give your child, both OTC and prescription, noting the active ingredients.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Oct 4

  1. Rhinitis (Hay Fever): Tips to Remember. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, undated. (http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/rhinitis.aspx);

  2. An Important FDA Reminder for Parents: Do Not Give Infants Cough and Cold Products Designed for Older Children. Food and Drug Administration, August 3, 2011. (http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/SpecialFeatures/ucm263948.htm);

  3. OTC Cough and Cold Products: Not for Infants and Children Under 2 Years of Age. Food and Drug Administration, May 23, 2013. (http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048682.htm);

  4. Allergy Relief for Your Child. Food and Drug Administration, July 25, 2013. (http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm273617.htm);

  5. Know Active Ingredients in Children's Meds. Food and Drug Administration, April 11, 2013. (http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm343050.htm);

  6. Allergy Medicines. American Academy of Pediatrics, July 1, 2013. (http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/allergies-asthma/pages/Allergy-Medic...;

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