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Are seasonal allergies affecting your family?
March 18, 2024
Young girl blowing her nose on the sofa at home with Mom

    Tips for taking antihistamines safely from the Virginia Poison Center

    Are your kids struggling with seasonal allergies? They’re not alone. In 2021, studies found that 18.9% of children younger than 18 years of age have seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever.

    What causes seasonal allergy symptoms?

    Seasonal allergies occur at different times of the year and are typically caused by specific pollens:

    • Spring – flower, tree and grass pollen
    • Summer through fall – grass and weed pollen
    • Late summer through fall – weed pollen

    You may notice your child is experiencing allergy symptoms when airborne irritants, or allergens, enter the eyes, nose and throat, causing the body to release what is called histamine. The release of histamine triggers allergy symptoms, including:

    • Stuffy or runny nose
    • Sneezing
    • Itchy eyes and nose
    • Sore throat
    • Cough

    Antihistamines and seasonal allergies

    Antihistamines are medications used to treat allergic symptoms by blocking histamine. They’re available as liquids, tablets, nasal sprays and eye drops for both children and adults. Antihistamines can also be found in over-the-counter cold and cough products in combination with decongestants, pain relievers and cough suppressants. Some antihistamines should not be used for children.

    It's important to know that there are two main classes of antihistamines that work in different ways and have different side effects.

    Older first-generation antihistamines – sedating antihistamines – can cause more drowsiness and fatigue than the newer products. Side effects may include dizziness, poor coordination, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, and trouble urinating. Occasionally children can become very fussy or irritable instead of drowsy when taking these medicines. Various brands include over-the-counter medications like Benadryl® (diphenhyramine), Chlor-Trimeton® (chlorpheniramine) and Dimetapp®, or prescriptions like Bromfed®, Vistaril® and Atarax®.

    Newer, second- and third-generation antihistamines – non-sedating antihistamines – are used more frequently as they don’t typically cause drowsiness. These products are known to last longer and can be dosed once per day. However, if taken in a high dose some of them can cause drowsiness and rapid heart rate. Various brands include Zyrtec® (cetirizine), Claritin® (loratadine) and Allegra® (fexofenadine).

    Safety tips when giving antihistamines to kids

    While antihistamines are helpful for relieving allergy symptoms, too much can be dangerous – especially for little ones. Keep these safety tips in mind.

    • Store antihistamines up high and out of sight/reach from children.
    • Always read the label carefully for safe dosing.
      • Do NOT give your child more than one oral antihistamine at a time unless your healthcare provider has instructed otherwise.
      • More is NOT always better!
    • Buy/use a children’s product when giving antihistamines to children.
    • If more than one adult is providing the medication to a child, coordinate schedules to ensure proper dosing.
      • Writing down a schedule, names of medications and dosages is a great way to keep everyone on the same page.
    • Do not give your child more than one medication with the same active ingredient at a time unless instructed to do so by a healthcare provider.
    • Use the dosing device that comes with the medication to ensure correct dosing.
    • Ensure your child stays hydrated while taking antihistamines.

    Find out how to tell if your child’s dealing with seasonal allergies or a cold.

    Keep up with the latest health information for your family.

    By Shelly Clary, educational specialist, Virginia Poison Center

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