Choosing the Right Over-the-Counter Medicine for your Child’s Allergies

By Melody Sun, clinical pharmacist at CHOC Children’s

Allergy season is a time of stuffy noses, itchy eyes, and lots of sneezing. When these symptoms cannot be managed with lifestyle habits, non-prescription or over-the-counter medications may help. However, there can be an overwhelming variety of over-the-counter medications for the same issue, so how do you choose one? Here are some tips on finding the appropriate non-prescription medication to manage allergy symptoms. For children, you should check with your provider or pharmacist prior to starting any new medication.

  1. How to read the Drug Facts label.

The Drug Facts label is the black and white box on the back of the packaging. The information is broken down into:

Section What does it mean?
Active ingredient(s) The medication name for specified symptoms.
Purpose This is the active ingredient’s action. For example, “antihistamine” helps with allergy symptoms.
Uses The product may help treat some of the general symptoms listed under this section. For example, sneezing and itchy eyes.
Warnings This includes when to avoid this medication. Certain activities or other substances require you to be more careful due to side effects of the medication, which are also listed in this section.
Directions Details on who, how much, and how often to take the product.
Other information How to store the medication appropriately.
Inactive ingredients These ingredients do not treat the symptoms. Avoid this medication if you are allergic or have restrictions to any of these components.
  1. What active ingredients are used for allergies?

There are oral products, nasal sprays, and eye drops that are available to manage allergy symptoms.

Active ingredient Purpose Symptoms treated
Itchy eyes Runny eyes Itchy nose Runny nose Stuffy nose Itchy throat
Oral products
Chlorpheniramine, Diphenhydramine Antihistamine

(more sedating)

Cetirizine, Loratadine, Fexofenadine Antihistamine

(less sedating)

Phenylephrine, Pseudoephedrine Nasal Decongestant
Nasal sprays
Oxymetazoline* Nasal Decongestant
Budesonide, Fluticasone, Triamcinolone Glucocorticoid, Allergy symptom reliever
Cromolyn sodium** Nasal allergy symptom controller
Eye drops
Ketotifen, Naphazoline with Antazoline/Pheniramine Antihistamine

*Prolonged use can lead to worsening congestion.

** Takes 4-7 days to work. Not for immediate relief of symptoms. Must be taken regularly.

  1. Choosing the product.

When reading the drug facts label, make sure that the listed active ingredients treat a symptom you have. Avoid selecting a product that contains an active ingredient for a symptom you are not experiencing. Depending on the extent of your symptoms, a certain type of product may be more useful. Oral products work throughout the body, whereas nasal sprays and eye drops are great for local symptoms. Additionally, if local symptom management (for example, eye drops) still does not control the itchy eyes, using both eye drops and oral products can be more helpful.

If you have questions about the product, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.

For more information, visit Understanding Over-the-Counter Medications from the FDA.

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One thought on “Choosing the Right Over-the-Counter Medicine for your Child’s Allergies”

  1. I like the chart you provided that breaks down what each area on the drug label is. My son has allergies and I am always so confused when trying to get him medicine. I will keep this chart near by when shopping for new medication.

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