Childhood Cold and Allergy Relievers

Over-the-counter decongestants (e.g., Dimetapp, Triaminic, PediaCare), antihistamines (e.g., Benedryl, Claritin, Zyrtec), or cough suppressants (e.g., Robitussin DM) are sometimes used in children to relieve congestion, runny or stuffy nose, and coughs due to the common cold or allergies. However, cold remedies should be used with caution in children and adolescents and should only be used under the direction of a qualified health care provider in children younger than 6 years of age.

Although OTC cold medicines may lessen the severity of symptoms, they often are unnecessary. In many cases, they actually do more harm than good. Parents and caregivers should contact their child's pediatrician if they have any questions regarding the child's health or about administering OTC cold medication.

Over-the-counter allergy medications can cause a number of side effects in children. These side effects include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Drowsiness (excessive sleepiness, somnolence)
  • Excitability
  • Headache
  • Nervousness

Multi-symptom cold remedies include several drugs (e.g., decongestant, cough suppressant, antihistamine, pain reliever) and can increase the risk for over-medication, especially in children. Parents and caregivers should use multi-symptom medicines with care and should avoid using these remedies if the child does not have all of the symptoms that the medication is used to treat. To reduce the risk for overdose, do not give the child a pain reliever, such as Tylenol®, in addition to a multi-symptom remedy that includes acetaminophen.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 08 Sep 2015