Is Benadryl Safe for Kids?
Allergies and other allergic reactions can cause some highly unpleasant and disruptive symptoms in kids of all ages, but is the common antihistamine Benadryl actually safe for children to take?
What is Benadryl?
Benadryl is the most common and popular brand name for the medicine "diphenhydramine," an antihistamine used to treat allergic reactions. It's an over-the-counter drug that's typically used to reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies (hay fever), reactions to bee stings or poison ivy, or even alleviate some of the symptoms associated with skin conditions such as eczema.
Most of these symptoms involve swelling and inflammation, a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, or itchy, watery eyes. Diphenhydramine has also been used at times to reduce the effects of motion sickness and nausea.
Is Benadryl Safe for Children?
Under the supervision of a pediatrician, using Benadryl to manage allergic reactions in older children is generally considered safe as long as the correct dose is administered. It's best to always consult your child's doctor before giving them this medication unless otherwise instructed by that same doctor.
Once your child has surpassed the age of 12, even adult Benadryl is generally safe for them to take in most cases. However, for younger kids, there are some risks that you will need to weigh against the possible benefits of giving them diphenhydramine. Again, for these younger age groups, you should seek the professional advice of a trusted family doctor or pediatrician before giving them this medication, especially if doing so for the first time.
Use of Benadryl in Older Kids
It is considered safe for children between the ages of 6 and 11 to take about 5mL to 10mL of Benadryl every 4 to 6 hours as needed for allergy symptoms. This is especially acceptable with prior approval from the child's pediatrician.
If your child is exhibiting severe or persistent allergy symptoms (whether seasonal or from exposure to particular insects or plants), consult with your pediatrician on how to proceed with further treatment.
Use of Benadryl in Toddlers
Toddlers (more specifically, children between the ages of 2 and 5) are not recommended for the use of Benadryl for allergy symptoms. The manufacturers of Benadryl (and other similar antihistamine products) insist that you consult with your child's pediatrician before use.
In some cases, a pediatrician may approve the use of this medication in toddler-aged children, but you should not give any antihistamine medications to a toddler-aged child without prior approval. If your child between the ages of 2 and 5 is on the smaller side, they face a greater risk of adverse side effects. Larger children in this age range are more likely to be tolerant of an adverse effect, excluding those with certain pre-existing health conditions.
Use of Benadryl in Infants
Any child below the age of 2 should not be given Benadryl.
Antihistamines are known for causing significant, life-threatening side effects in this age group, such as a rapid heart rate, trouble breathing, convulsions, loss of consciousness, and death.
Benadryl Abuse by Parents
Benadryl's most common side effect is causing drowsiness. Unfortunately, many parents have used this over-the-counter medication to sedate their children (of all ages) for travel as well as to simply "have a break."
Using Benadryl inappropriately, whether in excessive dosages or for purposes aside from treating allergic reactions or other medical conditions as instructed by a physician, is now being labeled as an under-recognized form of child abuse. Parents drugging their children for a few moments of peace, to help their children fall asleep easier or more quickly, or to make family excursions more manageable has resulted in numerous injuries and deaths to young kids. Even now, teens are meeting with fatal results due to excessive Benadryl consumption due to a viral TikTok challenge, so no age groups are exempt from the health risks of using this over-the-counter medication incorrectly.
Unless specifically directed by your child's doctor, Benadryl should not be used for the purposes of sedation.
Other Things to Keep in Mind When Using Benadryl
Regarding allergic reactions, Benadryl is not suitable for treating severe and/or anaphylactic allergic reactions. If you or your child experience such a reaction, use a prescribed Epi-Pen or seek out immediate medical attention.
Additionally, if your child struggles with allergies on a regular basis, this is something to discuss with their pediatrician. Often, doctors will prescribe medications that are safe for children of various ages to take on a regular basis with minimal health risks associated with consumption. If your child's allergies are notably severe, they may need to see an allergist and receive immunotherapy injections.
In rare cases, some children may also present adverse reactions to Benadryl in the form of extreme anxiety or hyperactivity. Diphenhydramine may also worsen ADHD symptoms in certain cases as well.
Symptoms of a Benadryl Overdose in Children
If your child is reacting adversely to being given Benadryl and you think there may be a risk of accidental overdose, here are the symptoms to keep an eye out for:
Rapid heart rate
Low blood pressure
Dry mouth and/or eyes
Anxiety or feelings of nervousness/agitation
Shaking or tremors
Difficulty waking up or stirring
Inability to urinate
If your child is experiencing significant side effects from taking Benadryl or has potentially overdosed on this medication, Poison Control can be reached at 1-800-222-1222. It is also recommended that you contact your child's pediatrician for additional guidance.
If the symptoms worsen and your child is unable to breathe or be woken up, call 911 or contact other emergency services immediately.