Benadryl can help relieve mild symptoms of environmental allergies and food allergies in children. But it could harm your child if they aren't given the right dosage at the right age. Here's what parents need to know about giving the safe type and dosage of Benadryl to children.
What is Benadryl?
Benadryl is a common medication used to relieve mild allergy symptoms in adults and children.
Benadryl’s active ingredient is an antihistamine called diphenhydramine. Antihistamines like the one in Benadryl block the chemical histamine from releasing. Histamine causes the symptoms of allergies like hives, itching and nasal congestion when a person is exposed to one of their allergens, so antihistamines help relieve those symptoms.
Safely Giving Benadryl To Children
Benadryl is only safe for treating mild allergy symptoms in children.
Although Benadryl may cause drowsiness as a side effect, it is never safe to use as a sleep aid with children of any age. It is also never safe for keeping children calm on long trips. This is because an overdose may be fatal. Many children have died from Benadryl overdoses when the medicine was used as a sleep aid.
Also, antihistamines like Benadryl cannot treat severe allergic reactions. Only an epinephrine injection (an Epi-pen) can stop a severe allergic reaction.
If your child has asthma, or is taking another medication that can cause drowsiness, use caution when giving Benadryl.
To safely give Benadryl to children for mild allergy symptoms, you'll need to select the right type and dosage for your child's age, and always follow your pediatrician's advice and dosage recommendation.
It's usually best to use Benadryl for shorter-term allergy symptoms in children, not long-term symptoms like the ones seasonal allergies cause. As pediatrician Dr. Kristi Redlich, M.D. (Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital) told Parents, "Benadryl is intended to mainly be used for short-term relief of allergy symptoms and it is not recommended to use it as a long-term allergy medication. There are other types of antihistamines that would be preferable for long-term use because they have fewer significant side effects, like Claritin and Zyrtec."
Babies under two years of age: Only give Benadryl when recommended by a doctor
Generally, Benadryl is not safe to give to babies under two years of age at home, unless a doctor explicitly recommends a dosage.
This is because Benadryl could potentially cause severe side effects in babies, including rapid heart rate, convulsions, seizures, trouble breathing, reduced consciousness, or even sudden infant death.
More mildly, Benadryl can also cause significant sleepiness---or restlessness.
Still, a doctor may give a baby Benadryl under close doctor supervision, to treat symptoms of a mild allergic reaction. Or, they may give you a specific dose to use at home.
If a doctor recommends that you give Benadryl to a baby under two years of age, always follow their recommended dosage, and use the cup, syringe or dropper that comes with the medicine to measure it out.
Remember that only children's liquid Benadryl for allergies is safe to give babies. Chewable Benadryl tablets pose a choking risk. And "cough and cold" Benadryl (or any cough and cold medicine) is never recommended for babies.
Board-Certified Allergist Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan only recommends liquid Benadryl for mild allergic reactions in the youngest infants, due to its potential side effects. As Dr. Marks-Cogan explains, “I usually only recommend Benadryl for infants six months and younger. For infants older than six months, I usually recommend children’s Zyrtec, another antihistamine. Benadryl is short-acting and can cause drowsiness or hyperactivity in some babies. I prefer Zyrtec, which creates more of a steady state and has fewer side effects.”
Children 2-5 years of age: Also only give Benadryl when recommended by a doctor
Children's Benadryl (both the liquid kind and the chewable tablet variety) is designed for children 6 years of age and older. Still, your pediatrician or allergist may recommend liquid or chewable Benadryl for your 2-5 year old.
Only give children's Benadryl to a 2-5 year old if your doctor recommends it.
Always follow your doctor's recommended dosage. If giving liquid Benadryl, use the cup, syringe or dropper that comes with the medicine to measure it out.
Children 6-11 years of age: Use Children's Benadryl, not adult Benadryl
Use Children's Benadryl (not adult Benadryl) with children ages 6-11 years. While it's generally safe to use Benadryl with a child of this age on your own, it's still advised to talk to your doctor before starting Benadryl. After all, they may recommend a different type of allergy medicine for your child instead.
Follow the dosing instructions on the medication box, which are based on a child's age and weight. If giving liquid Benadryl, use the cup, syringe or dropper that comes with the medicine to measure it out.
Regular (adult) Benadryl is meant for adults and children 12 years of age and over.
Benadryl Doses For Children
The Benadryl dosage that a doctor will recommend for a child depends on the child’s age and weight.
Always follow the guidance and dosage recommendations of your doctor.
Dosages shown here are suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). As always, though, only use Benadryl with young children when your doctor recommends it.
If your child is younger than 6 years of age, only give Children’s Benadryl if recommended by a doctor.
A Note About Severe Allergic Reactions
Antihistamines like Benadryl cannot treat severe allergic reactions. Only an epinephrine injection (an Epi-pen) can stop a severe allergic reaction or life-threatening anaphylaxis. If your child is experiencing severe allergic reaction symptoms in more than one organ system, they are experiencing anaphylaxis --- immediately give epinephrine and call 911.
As Board-Certified Allergist Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan recommends, “I only recommend Benadryl or Zyrtec for a mild allergic reaction, such as localized hives or redness. Benadryl or Zyrtec will not stop anaphylaxis from happening---only epinephrine will. It’s an important thing to educate parents on, because many parents think that Benadryl will actually stop anaphylaxis, but that is not the case.”
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