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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Halloween Safety: Remind Kids That Medicine is Not Candy

Halloween SafetyHalloween is approaching and with it, the customary bags of candy. Children anticipate sweet treats this time of year, which may cause them to mistake medication, not properly stored, for candy. CHOC Children’s pharmacists warn parents to be particularly vigilant this time of year, helping ensure treats don’t turn into “tricks” for little ghosts and goblins.

Adults should follow these simple medication safety tips:

  • Use the word “medicine,” not “candy,” when talking about medications
  • Store medicine out of the reach of children
  • Do not leave handbags, containing medicine or other potential hazards, on the floor where children can find them
  • Properly close medicine caps on tamper-resistant bottles
  • Read the label before taking or giving medicine
  • Take medicine out of the sight of children, who learn by copying adults
  • Properly dispose of medication. Even expired medications can have harmful effects when taken inappropriately

More than 50 percent of poison exposures involve medications.

In any case of possible ingested poison, call the Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 and be ready to provide responses to the following:

  • Who took the medicine?
  • What did they take?
  • How much did they take?
  • How long has it been?
  • How are they behaving?

Call 911 if the person has difficulty breathing or is unresponsive.

For more information, visit the California Poison Control System website.

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