Is it safe to give my child Children's Zyrtec (Cetirizine)?

What is Zyrtec (Cetirizine) used for, and is it safe to give Zyrtec to your child? Find out when you can give Zyrtec, when you shouldn't give Zyrtec, and how much is safe to give your child based on age.

What is Children's Zyrtec (Cetirizine), and what is it used for? And most importantly, is Children's Zyrtec safe for your child?

Today, we'll cover what parents need to know about the safety of children's Zyrtec (Cetirizine), including how much is safe to give your child, and when you shouldn't give Zyrtec. We’ve included recommendations from Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan, Board-Certified Allergist and our Chief Allergist here at Ready, Set, Food!.

What is Cetirizine (Zyrtec)?

Cetirizine is a type of over-the-counter allergy medicine known as an antihistamine. It is usually found under the brand name Zyrtec. 

The active ingredient in Zyrtec is a type of antihistamine called Cetirizine hydrochloride, or Cetirizine HCl.

Antihistamines, including the Cetirizine HCl in Zyrtec, block the body from releasing a chemical called histamine.

Histamine causes allergy symptoms  when a person is exposed to one of their allergens. By stopping the body from releasing more histamine, antihistamines help relieve the mild allergy symptoms.

Antihistamines like Zyrtec help relieve mild allergy symptoms such as: 

  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing 
  • Itchiness of the eyes 
  • Itchiness of the nose
  • Itchiness of the throat
  • Small amounts of hives concentrated in one area of the body
  • Mild inflammation

Who is Zyrtec designed for?

Zyrtec is designed for most people who have mild symptoms of environmental allergies or food allergies. 

But no type of Zyrtec is designed for babies or the youngest children.

  • Adult Zyrtec (Cetirizine) is suitable for adults and children 6 years of age and older.
  • Children's Zyrtec liquid medicine and dissolvable tablets are also available. 
    • But the dissolvable tablets are only meant for children 6 years of age and older, and the liquid medicine is only meant for children 2 years of age and older.

Even so, doctors may sometimes recommend Children's Zyrtec for children under 2 years of age, under close doctor supervision. 

 

Is Children's Zyrtec safe?

For children 2 years of age and older, Children's Zyrtec is safe, as long as you give your child the correct type and dosage of Zyrtec for their age group. 

Children's Zyrtec is generally not safe to give to children under 2 years at home, unless your doctor explicitly recommends a dosage. 

If your doctor does recommend Children's Zyrtec for a child under 2, follow their dosage instructions exactly, and only give the liquid form of Children's Zyrtec.

Children's Zyrtec is also not recommended for children with liver disease or kidney disease, regardless of age. If your child has one of these conditions, ask your doctor before starting  Children's Zyrtec.

Potential side effects of Children's Zyrtec 

Children's Zyrtec can sometimes cause side effects, including these common ones:

  • Drowsiness (even though it’s less likely to cause drowsiness than Benadryl)
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach pain 
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sore throat

Usually, side effects of Zyrtec are mild. But if you have any concerns about Zyrtec side effects, or your child’s mild allergy symptoms don’t improve within a few days after they start taking Zyrtec, contact your doctor. 

Learn more about giving Zyrtec to children with Dr. Kat here:

Advantages of Children's Zyrtec over Children's Benadryl

One advantage that Zyrtec (Cetirizine) has over Benadryl, and other older antihistamines, is that Zyrtec causes less drowsiness and fewer other side effects than Benadryl.

Zyrtec also tends to last longer than Benadryl --- generally, someone only needs to take a dose of Zyrtec once every 24 hours to relieve allergy symptoms.

Dr. Marks-Cogan also recommends Children’s Zyrtec most frequently for babies six months and older, over Benadryl (which she only tends to recommend for the youngest infants).  “For infants six months or older,” she says, “I usually recommend Children’s Zyrtec. Benadryl is short-acting and can cause drowsiness or hyperactivity in some babies. I prefer Zyrtec, because it creates more of a steady state and has fewer side effects.”

Safely giving Cetirizine to your child: By age

The safe amount of Children’s Zyrtec for your child depends on their age (and the appropriate type of Zyrtec for their age).

If giving liquid Cetirizine, always use the measuring cup that comes with the medicine, to ensure that you give the right dose.

Zyrtec Dosage Chart for Children

Younger than 2 years of age 

Only give Children’s Zyrtec to children under 2 years of age if your doctor recommends it.

If your doctor recommends Zyrtec for your child under 2 years of age, only give the liquid form of Children’s Zyrtec. Follow the exact dosing instructions your doctor gives you. Use the measuring cup that comes with the Zyrtec to measure out the right dose. 

Ages 2-5

Only give liquid Children’s Zyrtec to children ages 2-5. Do not give any type of Zyrtec tablet, not even the dissolvable kind. 

Always use the measuring cup that comes with liquid Children’s Zyrtec, to measure out the right dosage. 

The standard dose of liquid Children’s Zyrtec for children ages 2-5 is 2.5 ml once daily.  

If needed, you can increase the dosage to 5 ml once daily, or 2.5 ml every 12 hours. Never give more than 5 ml per day to children ages 2-5. 

Ages 6 and up

For relief of very mild symptoms in children ages 6-11, 5 ml of Children’s liquid Zyrtec daily may be enough (especially if your child is on the younger end of the age range). 

Children 6 years of age and older can also start taking Children’s Zyrtec 10 mg Dissolve Tabs (one 10 mg tab daily).

The adult versions of Zyrtec (tablets and capsules) are suitable for children 6 years of age and older as well, as long as your child is comfortable swallowing the medicine. They come in the same dosage as the children’s dissolvable tablets --- 10 mg once daily. 

A Note About Severe Allergic Reactions

Antihistamines like Zyrtec and Benadryl can only help relieve symptoms of a mild allergic reaction. These medicines cannot stop severe allergic reactions or life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Epinephrine (an EpiPen) is the only medication that can stop anaphylaxis. So, if your child has a food allergy, it’s vital to have two Epi-Pens available at all times, in case of an allergy emergency.

The only way to stop anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) is with an epinephrine injection (EpiPen). 

As Dr. Marks-Cogan explains, “I only recommend Zyrtec or Benadryl for children who are having a mild allergic reaction, such as localized hives or mild congestion. Zyrtec or Benadryl will not stop anaphylaxis --- only epinephrine will. It’s important to educate parents about this, because many parents think that Zyrtec will actually stop anaphylaxis, but that is not the case.”

Using Zyrtec (Cetirizine) Safely for Allergic Reactions: A Review

Here’s what parents should take away, to maximize safety when using Zyrtec:

  • Zyrtec can only help relieve symptoms of mild allergic reactions. 
    • Zyrtec is not for severe allergic reactions. Only epinephrine can stop a severe allergic reaction.
    • Don't give Zyrtec to children under 2 years of age unless a doctor explicitly recommends it.
    • Only give the liquid form of Children's Zyrtec to children ages 5 and under.
    • When measuring out liquid Zyrtec, always use the cup that came with the medicine.

    Introduce Allergens Safely and Easily with Ready, Set, Food!

    -------------------------------

    All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

    These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  

    See the FDA Peanut Allergy Qualified Health Claim at the bottom of our homepage.