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Allergy Medicine Tips for Children

You may not be able to cure your child’s allergies, but you can help your little one feel better. Here's what you need to know.

Antihistamine Basics

When your child has an allergic reaction, his body releases a chemical called histamine. That’s what makes his nose stuffy or runny. It can also make his eyes itchy and watery.

Antihistamines are usually the first medications used to treat allergies. Like their name suggests, they work by blocking the effect of histamine.

Things to Know:

  • Some antihistamines are short-acting and are taken every four to six hours.
  • Longer-acting timed-release antihistamines are taken every 12 to 24 hours.
  • Some medicines combine an antihistamine and a decongestant.
  • The most common side effects are drowsiness and dry mouth.
  • Ask your pediatrician which medicine is best for your child.


When Kids Should Take Antihistamines

Most experts say you should take antihistamines before symptoms start, to keep them at bay.

Ask your pediatrician whether you should give you child allergy medicine:

  • Before bed. Allergy symptoms are often worse between 4 and 6 a.m. Giving medicine before he goes to sleep controls morning symptoms.
  • Before allergy season. If your child is allergic to pollen, you may want to start an antihistamine before pollen season, for three to 10 days.
  • All the time. If your child has year-round allergies, he may need to take allergy medication regularly to prevent symptoms.

Common Antihistamines

Examples of prescription antihistamines include:

  • Astelin, Astepro (azelastine) nasal sprays
  • Atarax, Vistaril (hydroxyzine)
  • Clarinex (desloratadine)

Most eyedrops are recommended only for children over 3. Here are some more common ones that are prescribed:

  • Pataday (Olopatadine HCL)
  • Patanol (Olopatadine HCL)
  • Optivar (azelastine) eyedrops

An example of over-the-counter eyedrops is:

  • Zaditor (ketotifen fumarate)

Examples of over-the-counter antihistamines:

  • Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Claritin, Alavert (loratadine)
  • Zyrtec (certirizine)

Nasal Spray Basics

Steroid nose sprays fight inflammation and help your child breathe better. They can be liquids or aerosol puffs and are used once or more a day.

These sprays take a while to work. They reduce mucus, itch, and congestion. You need a prescription to get steroid nasal sprays.

For best results:

  • Make sure your child sprays the medication away from the septum, the thin wall between the nostrils.
  • If your child's nose has thick mucus, clear it first with a spray saline solution or have her blow her nose.
  • Your doctor may want her to keep taking antihistamines and other allergy drugs until the nose spray kicks in, usually a week or two. 

Other drugs

  • Singulair is a prescription drug that’s used to prevent asthma attacks and is also approved for treating allergies. It reduces congestion in the nose and also cuts down on sneezing, itching, and eye allergies. It works by blocking the release of inflammatory chemicals that cause nasal passages to swell and produce a lot of mucus.
  • NasalCrom (cromolyn sodium) is a spray that keeps the body from releasing histamine. It relieves a stuffy or runny nose. Drugs are often used with an inhaler or nebulizer as a "controller" medication for people with asthma.
  • Prescription eye drops can relieve and prevent itchy eyes. Your child may need to use them every day.

It may take a while to find the right medication or combination for your child. Working with your doctor, you can create a plan that works well and lets your child do all the things he wants to do.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on October 05, 2012

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