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What is the Best Allergy Medicine for Kids? Treating Allergies Safely

Which allergy medicines for kids have the best ingredients and are safe to take? Here are the allergy and cold meds we recommend.
What is the Best Allergy Medicine for Kids? Treating Allergies Safely
Updated: December 15, 2022

Allergies are absolutely no fun, but don’t let them keep your kids from enjoying time in the great outdoors. There are lots of ways to treat those stuffy noses and itchy eyes safely and effectively. 

Here is a breakdown of the best allergy medicines for kids that you are guaranteed to be buzzing about!

Related: Common Environmental Allergies in Kids 

What is an Allergy? 

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (AAAAI) defines an allergy as “a chronic condition involving an abnormal reaction to an ordinarily harmless substance called an allergen.” 

Aeroallergens include pollens, dust, molds, and pet dander. Conversely, irritants that impact the skin can range from fabrics, plants, household products, and materials like latex.

If your body’s immune system identifies a material as a threat, it is triggered to produce antibodies, which are designed to remove this ‘invader’ from your system. This results in the creation of compounds called histamines that cause allergy symptoms

If the allergen irritates a person’s respiratory system, a typical immune response includes sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, sinus pressure, red and itchy eyes, coughing, and even asthma.

In comparison, if the reaction is to a substance that impacts the skin — otherwise known as contact dermatitis — the symptoms that normally manifest are rashes, dry and itchy skin, blisters, swelling, pain, and in more severe cases, the emergence of hives. When these types of immune responses occur, allergy medications are an easy remedy for treating non-severe reactions.

What is an Antihistamine? 

What Is An Antihistamine?

In order to combat an allergy, doctors recommend the use of a drug called an antihistamine. This over-the-counter medication (OTC) blocks the effects of the histamines that your body is producing in response to the allergen, therefore diminishing your symptoms. These types of pills can be taken before exposure to a certain trigger (such as grass or tree pollen) or immediately after a reaction has begun.

Depending on the age of your child and the type of medication you choose, OTC antihistamines can come in tablet, syrup, aerosol, or eye drop forms. It is important to note that while these types of medications can be taken daily, they will lose their effectiveness over time if you use this type of regimen. 

Thus, unless advised by a doctor to regularly take antihistamines for allergy relief, it is best to only use them when symptoms of seasonal allergies or contact dermatitis arise.

Types of Antihistamines 

The two main types of this medication are first and second-generation antihistamines. The main difference is that the first generation will cross the blood-brain barrier, which makes symptoms like sleepiness much more likely. 

Conversely, second-generation antihistamines usually do not have this sedating effect. Moreover, they are considered more effective, they tend to last longer, and they have fewer drug interactions. This normally makes them the safest option.

Antihistamine Symptoms 

As with all drugs, allergy medicines can bring their own set of symptoms. Since these are designed to diminish side effects like a runny nose, it should come as no surprise that dry mouth and dry eyes are common. 

Many times sleepiness and drowsiness will also occur. However, some children may have the opposite reaction, experiencing hyperactivity. Stomach upset and constipation can also manifest with these drugs.

What are Corticosteroids? 

A corticosteroid is a type of anti-inflammatory drug that is used to reduce swelling. While extremely effective, this type of medication requires regular use in order to work. This means taking the medication even when symptoms are not present.

However, researchers have found that “intranasal corticosteroids are more effective than antihistamines when used as needed” for seasonal allergies. Therefore, if your child’s allergies are chronic, this can be a better and more cost-effective solution than OTC antihistamines.

Moreover, since most of these types of allergy treatments come in nasal spray form, dry nose and throat are the biggest side effects. Otherwise, symptoms tend to be minimal.

Top Types of Allergy Medicine for Toddlers and Kids 

Whether your child has issues with ragweed, dust, or pet dander, you want to find them relief fast. Both antihistamines and corticosteroids can be effective solutions for respiratory issues and some skin conditions. However, these are not effective treatments for food allergies.

It is also recommended that you always consult your child’s pediatrician or allergist before giving any type of medication. They can help you to select the best allergy medicine for kids and make sure that it will effectively treat your child’s specific symptoms. They can also advise you on the proper dosage and how frequently you should give it. Here is a list of the top kid-friendly options on the market.

Antihistamines for Kids 

Antihistamines for Kids 

1. Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)

Benadryl is a first-generation antihistamine, which means that you should expect sleepiness as a common side effect. This medication is available in bubblegum, cherry, and grape flavors in the liquid form and grape flavor for the chewable option.

They also offer alcohol, sugar, and dye-free options as well as a version that comes with a sinus decongestant. However, this is only made for kids six years and older, unless recommended by your healthcare provider.

2. Claritin (Loratadine) 

Claritin is a second-generation antihistamine that is available in syrup (grape flavored) and chewable tablet (grape and bubblegum flavored) forms for children ages two and older. They also make RediTabs that melt in the mouth, which are approved for kids ages six and older. 

No matter which option you choose, one dose will provide 24-hour relief. This medication is free of dyes, sugars, and alcohol and usually takes one to three hours to take effect.

3. Zyrtec (Cetirizine) 

Zyrtec is a second-generation antihistamine that also comes in both liquid (grape and bubblegum flavored) and tablet (grape flavored) forms and is made for children two years and older. Dissolve tabs are also available for kids six years and up.

While this drug will provide 24-hour relief, it may also cause drowsiness. One big benefit is that this drug normally only takes an hour or less to work. Finally, their children’s formulas are free of dyes, alcohol, sugars, high fructose corn syrup, and parabens.

4. Allegra (Fexofenadine)

Allegra is another second-generation antihistamine. It is available in berry-flavored syrup (2 years and up) and orange cream flavored dissolve tabs (six years and up). Both of these options are non-drowsy and will give a child 12 hours of relief. 

This medication requires about two hours to take effect. It is important to note that this antihistamine will not absorb properly, and therefore not work as well if taken with fruit juices and antacids.

5. Pataday (Ophthalmic Olopatadine)

Pataday is an antihistamine that comes in the form of an eye drop. This type of drug is classified as a mast cell stabilizer, which essentially means that it stops inflammation. It is specifically used to treat red and itchy eyes. 

This medication can be used with kids two years and older and relief can be felt almost immediately, with the effect lasting up to 16 hours.

Corticosteroids for Kids

1. Flonase (Fluticasone)

Flonase is a steroid nasal spray that promises relief from nasal congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, itchy noses and eyes, and runny noses. While it takes up to 12 hours to take effect, this option is administered right at the source and does not cause drowsiness. It will also provide 24 hours of relief once the medication starts working.

There are two options available — one for kids two years and older (scent and alcohol-free) and the other for children six and up. The company notes that it is important to consult your doctor if you intend to use the spray for longer than two months.

2. Nasacort (Triamcinolone)

Nasacort is another non-drowsy corticosteroid nasal spray that provides 24-hour relief and is made for kids two years and older. This option can take up to a week to provide full relief and this is another treatment that should not extend for more than two months if the child is younger than 11 years of age. 

The company also states that this should not be used if your child has an eye infection or if they are using other steroid products for conditions like asthma.

Other Allergy Treatment Options for Kids 

Other Allergy Treatment Options for Kids 

Decongestants for Kids 

For severe sinus pressure, a decongestant like Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) can be used to reduce swelling in the nose by narrowing the blood vessels. However, it is important to note that this treatment should be reserved for older kids.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that “children under 2 years of age should not be given any kind of cough and cold product that contains a decongestant or antihistamine because serious and possibly life-threatening side effects could occur.”

Others caution that these types of meds are still a questionable choice for kids under twelve. Therefore, speak with your child’s doctor before utilizing this form of treatment, and even then, only use it when other methods are not relieving symptoms.

Natural Allergy Remedies 

There are also natural allergy remedies and treatment options. Another way to diminish allergy symptoms is to make sure that your kids are getting enough Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and zinc. These essential nutrients have been shown to reduce inflammation and lessen the severity of allergic reactions. This means eating more citrus fruits, berries, and milk.

Moreover, include local honey in their regular diet. This natural sweetener has anti-inflammatory properties and research shows that ingesting higher amounts on a regular basis can help to build a tolerance to aeroallergens in your region.

If allergies do arise, consider nasal irrigation using saline solution to flush out irritants like pollen and dust. This will also help to loosen any mucus that has formed. 

Remember that pollen has a pesky way of sticking to your clothes and even your skin. Therefore, when your kids come inside for the day, have them change their clothes and either wash their face or use non-medicated face wipes to help remove particulates.

Finally, ensure that your kids are drinking water! This simple solution helps their bodies to better regulate their histamine levels making pollen season much more pleasant.

Natural Allergy Remedies 

Natural Remedies to Avoid 

While echinacea, stinging nettle, and butterbur can be effective allergy relief options for adults, parents should avoid giving herbal remedies to kids.

 Not only are these supplements not FDA regulated, but they can have dangerous side effects when the wrong dosage is administered or when they are combined with certain medications. They can also cause allergic reactions since they are derived from plants.

You should also not give your child vitamin supplements without consulting a professional. Certain types can actually build up in the body and become toxic when prescribed incorrectly. Instead, just offer foods that are high in the vitamins and minerals that you wish to increase.

Allergy Shots & Prescription Medications 

When over-the-counter medications and natural remedies don’t suffice and symptoms remain present for more than three months out of the year, it is time to speak with your child’s doctor about allergy shots (immunotherapy) or prescription medications that can better treat their symptoms. 

Most of the meds are just a higher dosage of over-the-counter options. Both of these treatments are normally reserved for children with severe and chronic symptoms.

Ways to Save on Allergy Medicine 

For the kids who experience allergies year-round, it is important to remember that there are ways to save, without cutting back on their care. Here are some ways to save money and cut costs on cold medicines

Shop Smart at the Pharmacy 

First and foremost, the brand name does NOT matter. What is important is the drug and the dosage. Thus, consider looking for generic store brand options like Walmart’s Equate or Target’s Up & Up. They offer the exact same active ingredients and dosages, just at a lesser cost. All you need to do is read the box!

Pay Attention to the Weather Forecast 

Second, remember that avoidance is key with most seasonal allergies. Therefore, if you know the forecast is bringing strong winds and a high pollen count, stay indoors that day. While this is not always possible, it is an easy way to lessen the number of reactions during allergy season, and thus, limit the amount of medication you need.

Diminish Indoor Allergens 

Diminish Indoor Allergens

Third, be proactive in your home! By removing the source of the problem, your child will not have as many flare-ups and you can prevent the need for regular treatments. Dust and vacuum often. Change your air filters regularly. Invest in a HEPA filter to help remove allergens from the air.

Also, wash your bedding weekly, and don’t forget about your pillows! These should be washed at least twice a year and replaced every one to two years. In case you didn’t know, these bedroom accessories are filled with dust mites, drool, dead skin cells, pet dander, sweat, and bacteria. If the triggers are not present, then your child is less likely to need medications in the first place.

Additionally, keep the humidity in your home low as this can trigger allergic rhinitis (hay fever) symptoms. This can easily be done by using the exhaust fans in your bathrooms and kitchen as well as keeping your windows closed. You can also invest in a dehumidifier for your home.

Final Thoughts 

When it comes to finding an allergy medicine for kids, it is not a one size fits all situation. The best choice will depend on your child’s specific symptoms, how often they occur, and the severity of their reaction. It is also important to note that there is no allergy medicine for babies on the market.

Prior to the age of two, doctors recommend using home remedies and keeping infants away from triggers to provide allergy relief. Meds should only be given under the supervision of a physician. Lastly, while antihistamines like Benadryl are known for causing drowsiness, they should never be used as a sleep aid.


Heidi Butler

About Heidi

Heidi is an experienced journalist who worked in the television news industry for a decade,… Read more

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