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How Do I Choose the Best Antihistamine for Children?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 17, 2024
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Choosing the right over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine for children usually means selecting one that will last for the required amount of time without causing too many side effects. Often, looking for those labeled specifically for children helps. Sometimes, however, it takes some experimentation to select the best medicine.

Some antihistamines last for only a short time while others provide extended symptom suppression. Those that provide only short-term relief usually last for about four to six hours while others last for eight, 12, or even 24 hours. A short-acting antihistamine for children can be appropriate when allergen exposure will last for a short period of time. A longer-acting antihistamine, however, may prove appropriate if the child will be exposed for days on end or when the parent will not be on hand to administer the medication. For example, a longer-acting medication can help a child get through a day at school or summer camp.

It is difficult to predict how effective one antihistamine will be versus another. Most OTC antihistamines are considered reasonably effective, but some children notice that one drug works better for them than another. As such, it may take some trial and error to choose the right medication for your child. Your child’s doctor might provide some input into the medication that works best for most of his patients, giving you a start with comparing.

You may consider the side effects of antihistamines when making the best choice for your children. For instance, many antihistamines cause drowsiness and dry mouth symptoms that can make the day uncomfortable. This is especially problematic when a child needs to be alert, such as when he has school or must play a sport. As such, you may do well to look specifically for a non-drowsy antihistamine for children. Those that cause drowsiness may be fine for use at night when the child can sleep.

Regular antihistamines, called first-generation antihistamines, often contain chlorpheniramine, brompheniramine, and diphenhydramine while second-generation, non-drowsy medications have active ingredients like fexofenadine, desloratadine, and loratadine. The second-generation medications do not cause as much sleepiness as the first, but some people do report drowsiness with these medications as well. Additionally, some people assert that first-generation antihistamines provide more reliable symptom relief.

Most antihistamines can cause side effects. Even the non-drowsy formulas can cause minor side effects like nausea, headaches, and dizziness. More serious side effects can include tremors, heart palpitations, and adverse effects on the liver or vision. An antihistamine for children normally contains safe dosages for younger, smaller patients, and the lower dosages might result in fewer side effects. Some antihistamines, however, are safe for both children and adults and provide dosage instructions based on weight.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

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Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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