Safe Over-the-Counter Allergy Medicine for Toddlers

Trying to find the right over-the-counter medication to ease your toddler's allergy symptoms is often a daunting task. There seem to be a million choices: stuffy nose relief, runny nose relief, cough or any combination of these. How do you know what is safe for your toddler? And to further muddy up the water, the FDA recently reviewed the use and safety of OTC allergy medications for children and decided antihistamines and decongestants may not even be effective. You should always consult your child's pediatrician before giving him any OTC medication.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


Toddlers oftentimes have the same allergic symptoms as adults. They can have a stuffy or runny nose; itchy, red eyes; sneezing or cough. They may also be fussy and the area below their eyes may become purple or blue. Allergies differ from colds in that they will often last longer than 10 days and the nasal discharge is clear and runny, as opposed to thick and green or yellow. Skin allergies will result in a rash.

OTC Medications

There are many OTC treatments available for toddlers. Though these medications are regarded as safe, contact your child's pediatrician for specific dosing instructions. The FDA warns against using combination products as they make it easy to overmedicate children.

Benadryl is an antihistamine approved for babies as young as 4 months old. It can be used every four to six hours and relieves all allergy symptoms 1. In adults, Benadryl causes marked drowsiness. In toddlers, however, this may be quite the opposite. Many parents report their children becoming hyperactive after taking Benadryl.

Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec are nondrowsy antihistamines approved for use in toddlers. They have fewer side effects than Benadryl and last a full 24 hours. Although these medications are supposed to be nondrowsy, they can cause drowsiness in a small number of children.

Sudafed is a decongestant that relieves stuffy noses. It can result in a runny nose so it is often paired with an antihistamine. Sudafed causes hyperactivity and may result in a decreased attention span.

Robitussin DM is a combination expectorant and a cough suppressant. When used correctly, side effects are rarely reported.

Hydrocortisone cream 1 percent may be used on a skin rash twice daily. Apply it directly to the rash.

Non-Pharmacologic Treatment

Medications may be necessary if removing the allergen is impractical or impossible. You can rinse your toddler's nose with saline drops three to four times a day for a runny nose. Use a soft tissue to wipe his nose. Saline will not be absorbed into your child's bloodstream and will not affect your toddler in any way other than rinsing his nose.

Easing Symptoms

You can minimize your toddler's exposure to allergens by following a few simple steps. Cover his mattress with a mite-proof pad. Wash all bedding in hot water with hypoallergenic detergent. Instead of sweeping, vacuum all floors with a vacuum cleaner that has an air filter. Finish hardwood floors with a damp mop. Air filters in the air conditioning unit should be changed or cleaned monthly. Groom pets regularly or keep them outdoors.

Doctor Visits

Symptoms that are severe or last more than 10 days without resolution should be brought to the pediatrician's attention. Anaphylaxis and wheezing should be considered emergencies and require immediate action. Anaphylaxis can be recognized as swelling of the face, lips or tongue and is oftentimes accompanied by wheezing.