Ask A Doctor: Can You Give Your Baby Antihistamines?

Posted on: 4 April 2016

Parents can now choose from a wide selection of over-the-counter medicines for children and toddlers. These drugs can prevent a visit to the doctor and can also help moms and dads nurse the symptoms of many mild conditions from the comfort of home. However, for babies, over-the-counter medications are not a good idea, especially when the drugs contain antihistamines. Learn more about the effects antihistamines have on the body, and find out why these drugs are not suitable for babies.

How antihistamines work

Histamine is a chemical that occurs naturally in the human immune system. It's your body's natural defense against illness and plays a vital role if the immune system detects a foreign object like a virus. Upon detection of an invader, the body releases histamine into the cells around the unwanted object. This causes the blood vessels and skin around the object to swell, which then allows leukocytes and blood protein cells to leak through the vessel walls and attack the foreign object.

Most antihistamines block the receptors that cause the inflammatory effects of histamine. This action can halt and ease the uncomfortable swelling you experience when you have a cold or viral infection. Antihistamines also stop the unwanted effects of an allergic reaction, which can cause sudden, severe swelling.

Many over-the-counter products used to treat colds and coughs contain antihistamines.

What the FDA says

In 2008, American manufacturers voluntarily removed over-the-counter cough and cold products for children under the age of 2 from sale. The same year, manufacturers changed the labels of these products to say that parents should not give them to kids under the age of 4. The FDA continues to warn parents and caregivers that they should not give over-the-counter medications to babies, unless a doctor expressly advises them to do so.

The FDA recommends against the use of these drugs in babies following multiple reports of adverse events in young children. Injuries can occur because parents sometimes give babies the wrong dose, accidentally or otherwise. What's more, antihistamines can cause dangerous side effects in infants.

Possible side effects

Antihistamines can cause several unwanted problems. A regular dose of the drugs can cause:

  • Unwanted drowsiness and inattention, as antihistamines are also sedatives
  • Fever
  • Upset stomach
  • Blurred vision due to the way the drugs affect the muscles in the eye

An antihistamine overdose can cause more serious problems. The drugs can make your baby delirious and drowsy. The baby's heart may start to beat abnormally, and infants can even develop breathing problems. Unfortunately, parents may not immediately spot these symptoms, which can lead to life-threatening symptoms.

Treating your baby without antihistamines

You can't cure a common cold. Antihistamines can ease the symptoms in adults and young children, but you should not use these drugs for babies.

Fever-reducing medications can help relieve the discomfort that a fever can cause. You should not give these drugs to babies under three months, but some products are suitable for older babies. That aside, the dosing instructions for these drugs are often complex, so you should always consult your doctor before you give your baby any medication.

Generally, it's better to stick to natural remedies when treating baby's cold at home. Dehydration is a common side effect of a common cold, so make sure your baby continues to get plenty of fluids. Continue breast-feeding if you can because breast milk gives your baby protection from the germs that cause colds.

A doctor may also recommend saline nose drops. These can thin the baby's mucus, easing swelling in the breathing  passages and making it easier to breathe. What's more, if you can ease the baby's congestion, he or she will find it easier to sleep, which can also speed up his or her recovery. A humidifier in the baby's room can also help with these symptoms.

Adults and older children commonly use medications that contain antihistamines, but these drugs aren't safe for your baby. Talk to a doctor like Friedrich Tomas J MD for more advice and information.