Allergy Medicines for Kids: Types, Dosages, and More

Allergy symptoms in children can range from mildly bothersome to life-threatening. There are treatment options available both over-the-counter and by prescription. Factors such as the child’s reaction to the substance causing the allergic reaction, or allergen, can affect the course of treatment.

Allergy medications for children can help treat the symptoms of an allergy. However, it is important to use this medicine correctly because not all medicines labeled for children are safe for them.

Allergy rates in children have increased over the past few decades. Currently, 10–30% of people in the United States suffer from allergic rhinitis, the most common type of allergy. Allergic rhinitis can cause congestion, cough, and other cold-like symptoms in response to inhaled allergens, such as pollen or dander.

Food allergies, such as those to peanuts and shellfish, can be more serious. It can cause anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction. On 1 in 25 school-aged children have a food allergy.

The right allergy treatment depends on the type of allergy, the severity of the reaction, the child’s age, and other factors. Parents should consult a pediatrician or allergist before treating children’s allergies.

Read on to learn about allergy medications that can be given to children, including the best time to take them and some alternatives.

Here are examples of different allergy medications that are suitable for children:

Antihistamines

An allergy is a type of overreaction of the immune system to a harmless compound. During an allergic reaction, the immune system releases a group of chemicals called histamines.

Antihistamines reduce the activity of histamines and in doing so reduce allergy symptoms. However, they do not cure the underlying allergy.

Here are some examples of antihistamines:

Many antihistamines are available over the counter (OTC). An example is azelastine (nasal spray), which recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter use. Other antihistamines may require a prescription.

Some people experience fatigue and dizziness with certain antihistamines, so monitor a child closely for these symptoms. The child should avoid potentially dangerous activities while taking antihistamines, such as bicycling or swimming.

The right dose of antihistamine a child can take depends on the antihistamine. In the United States, for drugs containing antihistamines or decongestants, manufacturers must label the containers to indicate that they are not suitable for children under the age of Four years.

Caregivers should speak with a pediatrician before giving sedating antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, or decongestants (see below) to children.

Decongestants

Decongestants, unlike antihistamines, do not target or affect the allergic response. They can only help with nasal congestion symptoms. Decongestants work by narrowing blood vessels in the nose, which can help reduce swelling and inflammation. This makes it easier for people with allergies to breathe.

People should note that decongestants do not treat non-nasal allergy symptoms, such as rashes or anaphylaxis.

The dosage depends on the decongestant. Check the label, make sure the medicine is safe for children, and talk to a pediatrician before trying any new medicine.

Here are some examples of decongestants:

  • xylometazoline (nasal spray)
  • pseudoephedrine
  • phenylephrine

The FDA advises that decongestants are dangerous and potentially fatal in children under 2 years of age.

Cromolyn (nasal spray and eye drops)

Oral cromolyn is not a treatment for allergies. However, people can use nasal cromolyn or eye drops containing cromolyn to treat certain allergy symptoms.

The nasal form of the drug is available over the counter. People can use it to treat allergic rhinitis. The drug works by reducing histamine levels in the body and the inflammation associated with an allergic reaction.

Nasal cromolyn seems to have minimal side effects and works effectively when a person uses it before symptoms get worse. There is not enough data to support its use in children under 2 years of age, so caregivers of babies and toddlers should contact a doctor.

Eye drops containing cromolyn can be an effective treatment for allergic conjunctivitis.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are a group of drugs that prevent the immune system from overreacting harmless chemicals.

Nasal corticosteroids can be an effective treatment option for allergic rhinitis.

Most corticosteroids, such as prednisone, require a prescription. However, hydrocortisone cream can be used safely on short-term allergic skin reactions if a doctor says it is safe.

Since prescription corticosteroids can suppress the immune system, they can cause side effects, such as infections. Before starting corticosteroid therapy, a doctor may perform a thorough history and physical examination to ensure that using the drug will not make pre-existing conditions worse.

Epinephrine

The body naturally releases the hormone epinephrine during times of sudden and intense stress. It can increase a person’s blood pressure and heart rate and make glucose more available for the body to use for energy.

Epinephrine comes in a self-injection form called an EpiPen. An EpiPen device can help reverse the life-threatening symptoms of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can occur when a person has a severe allergy to certain foods.

A person needs a prescription to get an EpiPen. A doctor will usually train the child and caregiver on how to use the auto-injector. Emergency responders can also use an EpiPen without a prescription.

Epinephrine cannot prevent allergic reactions and it is not a medicine for daily or long-term use.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy does not treat allergic reactions. Instead, it aims to prevent them by gradually giving a person progressively larger doses of the substance they are allergic to. A doctor guides the process. It’s not something parents should be doing at home.

Allergy injections are one of the most common types of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy can also come in the form of tablets or drops, depending on the allergen.

Learn more about how immunotherapy works here.

Allergy symptoms in children can range from mildly bothersome to life-threatening.

It is important for parents to understand their child’s allergies, the specific symptoms they cause and whether the child is at risk of anaphylaxis.

Medicines for treating one type of allergic reaction, such as rhinitis, may not be helpful for treating others, such as rashes. People should consider that although allergy medications can offer significant relief, no medication is without side effects.

Talking to a doctor before treating allergies can be helpful, especially if symptoms are new or worsening. A healthcare professional can advise you on choosing the right allergy medication for a person and whether to take alternative treatments.