Over-the-Counter Allergy Treatments

If you suffer from allergies, you know how miserable they can be. Fortunately, there are many over-the-counter medicines available to prevent and treat allergic symptoms in kids and adults.

When selecting a medication, pay attention to the Active Ingredients section of the label. Many generic choices are equivalent to name brands.

For General Allergy Symptoms

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

Benadryl works primarily to prevent allergy symptoms. It also treats mild symptoms by drying out the nose and suppressing cough. Unfortunately, Benadryl can cause significant drowsiness, so we rarely recommend daily use. Information on doses for older kids is provided on the packaging. For children younger than 5, please call our office for advice on the proper dose.

Loratadine (Claritin) | Cetirizine (Zyrtec) | Fexofenadine (Allegra)

These newer antihistamines were designed to prevent allergies without causing side effects. They work best if you use them every day, and are for kids 2 and up. They only cause drowsiness at high doses. All three of these medications are very effective, but can take longer to start working — sometimes hours or days. Most people have one they prefer. Find the one that works best for your child, and consult the packaging for dose information.

For Nose Symptoms

Triamcinolone (Nasacort)

If your child’s symptoms are primarily in her nose, a steroid nasal spray can be a great option. This medication contains a very small dose of topical steroid, which will decrease nasal congestion and drainage. It is safe to use daily in children 2 years and up during allergy season.

We do not recommend nasal sprays containing oxymetazoline (sold as Afrin, and others) for treating allergies in children.

For Eye Symptoms

Ketotifen (Zaditor, Alaway, Zyrtec, Claritin eye drops)

Ketotifen is a topical antihistamine. It’s safe to use once every day for itchy, watery eyes in kids 3 years old and up.

We do not recommend eye drops designed to “reduce redness” (such as Visine, and others) for treating allergies in children.

For Skin Symptoms

Hives

Simple hives (no swelling of the lips, tongue, or face; no breathing problems) may be treated with any of the antihistamines. We generally recommend diphenhydramine (Benadryl) because it works most quickly.

Contact Dermatitis

Hydrocortisone 1% Ointment or Cream

For a small area of skin that is itchy after contact with an irritant (such as a mosquito bite or poison ivy), hydrocortisone is helpful. It’s a mild topical steroid and is typically used 2 to 3 times per day.

In all cases, please call our office if your child’s symptoms are severe.

When to Call Us

We can help diagnose allergies if you’re not sure what’s causing your child’s symptoms. Also, if your child has tried over-the-counter medication for allergies and is still suffering from symptoms, please let us know. There are a number of prescription alternatives that may work better for some people.

As always, please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s allergies, or if you’re not sure how to use any over-the-counter medication.

Dr. Kerry McGee is a former Kids Plus provider.