Allergy Medicines For Kids: At What Age To Use & Side Effects

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The body’s immune system’s negative response to a foreign substance is an allergic reaction. Allergens, such as pollen, dust, mites, mold, or different food, can trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals, leading to allergic symptoms (1). Allergy medicine for kids is available in tablets, sprays, or syrups. However, since the dosages may differ from a two-year-old to an eight-year-old, you should consult with your child’s pediatrician about the allergy types and respective medications for your children to know the appropriate dosage (2).

Read about the types of allergy medicine for kids, benefits, and side effects.

At What Age Can A Child Take Allergy Medicines?

Most over-the-counter allergy medicines are suitable for a child aged above two years. However, consulting a pediatrician for a prescription is highly recommended. Your healthcare provider would suggest the dosage of allergy medications and the form of medicine based on your child’s requirements (3).

Allergies can start at any age, even infants. However in a child less than two years, always consult your doctor before giving any medication for the same (1).

Allergy Medicines For Kids

Allergy medicines for children are often similar to those prescribed for adults. But they may differ in their concentrations and mode of intake. Generally, they have low concentrations of active ingredients and are mostly available as syrups or chewable tablets.

Here are some child-friendly allergy drugs available on the market.

1. Antihistamines

Antihistamines are the most common medications administered for allergies in children. On contact with an outdoor or indoor allergen, the mast cells in our body release histamines. These histamines are the primary cause of most allergy symptoms, such as congestion, itchy nose, and runny eyes. Antihistamines reduce the impact of the already-produced histamines.

Antihistamines are classified into two types, namely sedating or first-generation and non-sedating or second-generation. Second-generation forms are the most child-friendly version. Due to their low sedative nature, they don’t hinder your child’s day-to-day activities. Some common second-generation counter antihistamines suggested by pediatricians for children include cetirizine, fexofenadine, and loratadine. These are also available in syrup, pill, eye drop, and chewable forms (4) (5).

Antihistamines can be given to children even before the allergy season begins as a preventive measure. Consult your health care professional for the dosage and the type of formulation (6).

Side effects: First-generation antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, may cause drowsiness or hyperactivity. Also, a long-term dosage of second-generation antihistamines may lead to headache, nausea, and vomiting (2) (5).

2. Decongestants

A decongestant narrows the blood vessels and clears a stuffy nose caused by allergies. These medications are available as both over-the-counter and prescription drugs. And, some medications may also combine an antihistamine and a decongestant for improved performance (7).

Decongestants are present in the form of nasal sprays, nose drops, tablets, and syrups. Oxymetazoline, phenylephrine, and pseudoephedrine are the common decongestants.

Remember that decongestants only relieve the symptom of a blocked nose and act on the primary cause; thus, they are only ideal for short-term relief (8) (9).

Side effects: Decongestants are addictive, and excessive use could have a rebound effect—they could worsen nasal congestion. They may also lead to insomnia, anxiety, hallucinations, and increased heart rate (8).

3. Cromolyn sodium

Cromolyn sodium is a medication that is effective against nasal allergic reactions. By acting on the mast cells, cromolyn sodium reduces the production of inflammatory chemicals, such as histamine, and helps alleviate nasal allergy symptoms such as runny nose, itching, and sneezing (10).

It is mostly available as an over-the-counter nasal spray. Although cromolyn sodium reduces the release of antihistamines, it has no impact on histamines already in circulation; therefore, it is not the primary source of treatment for pollen allergies or hay fever.

Cromolyn sodium is better used as a preparatory medication as the allergy season approaches or before contact with a common allergen. Based on your child’s contact with potential indoor or outdoor allergens, your pediatric allergist may suggest its use.

Side effects: As cromolyn sodium is a nasal spray, it may irritate and cause a burning and stinging sensation immediately after usage. It may also cause sinus pain and nose bleeds. Avoid using the spray and contact your doctor immediately if the side effects persist.

4. Corticosteroids

A pediatrician may recommend corticosteroids or steroids for asthma or allergic rhinitis attacks. They can be administered orally as pills and syrups or via the nose as steroid nasal sprays. Steroids either act on the inflamed cells when taken orally or directly on the site of inflammation (11).

Corticosteroids can be used for both short-term and long-term allergic reactions and a range of allergies. Nasal steroids are also used to reduce congestion, but they are mostly slow-acting, and hence, not ideal for immediate allergy relief. Your pediatrician may prescribe them before the allergy season begins and may ask your child to continue their usage the entire season based on their susceptibility rate. Corticosteroid sprays and inhalers generally are safe to use when taken under supervision and in prescribed dosages.

Side effects: Corticosteroids may reduce the growth rate of a child if taken for long and unsupervised and in high doses. They may also lead to weight gain, rounding of the face, mood swings, and cataracts (12).

5. Eye drops

Most eye drops you find in the allergy medicine aisle are antihistamines with a combination of mast cell stabilizers. These eye drops reduce irritation triggered by weed pollens, grass pollen, and other allergens that have entered your child’s eyes. Sometimes, your pediatrician may also suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory eye drops (13) (14).

Eye drops are safe to be used throughout the pollen season.

Side effects: They may initially cause a burning sensation during usage. If the sensation persists, stop the usage and contact your medical supervisor. Antihistamine eye drops may also cause eye dryness.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What can I do for my child’s allergies?

The first and foremost thing you must do to avoid your child’s allergy symptoms is to keep them away from the potential triggers. Also, you may keep them hydrated, maintain hygienic conditions, and avoid touching their hands to eyes. Eventually, talk to the doctor and keep a few medications such as antihistamines handy to administer when the symptoms arise.

2. Should my kid take allergy medicine every day?

It is not advised to give allergy medications to children beyond the prescribed dosage by the doctor as most of them contain sedatives and might cause complications.

Whether it’s a cold, cough, runny nose, or any food allergy, children can easily develop allergic reactions when exposed to allergens. Because most allergy medicines for kids, such as antihistamines, decongestants, nasal spray, and eye drops, are readily available over the counter, it’s often advisable to be prepared before the seasonal allergies begin. However, check with your pediatrician and buy drugs based on their recommendations. Also, taking precautions may help you and your child avoid developing severe allergies.

Key Pointers

  • Most OTC allergy medicines are suitable for children above two years.
  • Antihistamines are the most commonly used allergy medications.
  • Cromolyn sodium helps reduce nasal allergy symptoms such as runny nose, itching, and sneezing.


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Dr. Garima Garg Seth

Dr. Garima Garg Seth is a well-known pediatrician in Gurgaon, having more than 19 years of experience in this field. She has completed her education from topmost organizations in India, including AIIMS, New Delhi; Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi; and CMC Vellore. She headed the pediatric ICU of Max Hospital Gurgaon for six years.  Dr. Seth is a strong... more

Sindusha MS

Sindusha is a clinical nutritionist with over two years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She did her Masters in Food Science and Nutrition and has qualified UGC-NET. She interned as a quality control analyst and as a dietitian during her graduation. She was a part of several community nutrition projects and a phytochemical-based nutrition study during the same... more