Over-the-Counter Medicine for Kids

An increasing number of reports about injuries and deaths from over-the-counter medicine has raised awareness that these OTC products can be dangerous.

Many more over-the-counter medicines can be helpful though—as long as you use them at the correct dosages and at the proper times.

Mother and daughter at the pharmacy
Hero Images / Getty Images 

Pain and Fever

Pain and fever reducers are perhaps some of the more useful over-the-counter medicines. These include Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen).

Medicines containing salicylates, including aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), should not be given to children or teens because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Parents should also avoid medicines like the Kaopectate and adult formulations of Pepto Bismol, which contain bismuth subsalicylate. The pediatric formulation of Pepto Bismol does not contain salicylates.

Colds and Coughs

A large variety of cold and cough medicines are available for kids, but remember that the FDA warns that they should not be used for infants and toddlers under age 2 years. Most manufacturers have gone even further and have stopped marketing them to children under age four and some experts wonder if they are even useful for older kids.

Major brands of over-the-counter cold and cough medicines for older children include:

  • Children’s Delsym Cough Plus Chest Congestion
  • Children’s Dimetapp Cold and Cough
  • Little Noses Decongestant Nose Drops
  • Children’s Mucinex Congestion and Cough
  • Pediacare Children’s Cough and Congestion
  • Children’s Robitussin Cough and Chest Congestion
  • Children’s Sudafed Cold Plus Cough
  • Triaminic
  • Vicks Children’s Cough Congestion

For Babies

Few products are approved for use by babies and younger infants, so only use those that are or get the advice of your pediatrician before using other products off-label that are intended for older children. Commonly used over-the-counter medicines for babies include:

  • Mylicon Infants’ Gas Relief
  • Orajel Baby cooling gels for teething
  • Aquaphor Healing ointment or cream
  • Desitin diaper rash cream or ointment
  • Enfamil Fer-In-Sol iron supplement drops
  • Enfamil Poly-Vi-Sol multivitamin supplement drops

Itching

Anti-itch creams and lotions are essential over-the-counter medicines to have in your medicine cabinet if your kids spend any time outside, as they will likely often have insect bites, poison ivy, and other itchy rashes.

In addition to oral Benadryl (diphenhydramine), some good choices to treat itching include:

  • Hydrocortisone cream 1%
  • Calamine lotion
  • Natural colloidal oatmeal cream or lotion
  • Gold Bond anti-itch cream
  • Sarna lotion
  • Caladryl Clear
  • Itch-X anti-itch spray or gel
  • Domeboro astringent solution
  • Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Relief gel or spray (not to be used on large areas or with oral Benadryl)

Rashes

In addition to anti-itch creams and lotions and moisturizers, other over-the-counter medicines for rashes you may want to have include:

  • Neosporin First Aid Antibiotic ointment
  • Polysporin First Aid Antibiotic ointment
  • Lotrimin AF Antifungal for athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm
  • Lamisil AT for athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm
  • Tinactin cream for athlete's foot and ringworm

Constipation

Preventing constipation with a healthy diet that is high in fiber is best for children, but when they do get constipated, these medicines are often helpful:

  • Miralax: polyethylene glycol laxative for adults, but often used off-label by pediatricians for younger children
  • Pedia-Lax: docusate sodium laxative, oral liquid
  • Pedia-Lax: magnesium hydroxide laxative, chewable tablets
  • Pedia-Lax: glycerin laxative, rectal liquid or suppository
  • Fleet for children: enema
  • Phillips Milk of Magnesia
  • Fletcher’s Laxative for Kids: senna laxative

Stomach Issues

Stomachaches, in addition to those that are caused by constipation, are a common problem for many kids. These over-the-counter medicines are sometimes useful:

  • Culturelle for Kids: probiotic supplement
  • Digestive Advantage Daily Probiotics + Lactose Support: for children 8 years or older with lactose intolerance
  • Pepto Kids: calcium carbonate antacid to help relieve heartburn in children
  • Emetrol: nausea relief
  • Dramamine Chewable: prevents motion sickness in children
  • Best Choice Fiber Laxative: fiber supplements for children 6 years or older
  • Tums: antacid for children 12 years or older

Since the causes of stomachaches are sometimes difficult to sort out, it usually best to see your pediatrician before giving your child an over-the-counter treatment on your own though.

Allergies

Like cold and cough medicines, parents often turn to over-the-counter allergy medicines to treat their children’s allergy symptoms. This is even more common now that Claritin, Zyrtec, and Flonase are available over the counter.

  • Children’s Benadryl: diphenhydramine for children 6 years or older
  • Children’s Claritin Allergy: loratadine solution for children 2 years or older
  • Claritin RediTabs: loratadine tablets for children 6 years or older
  • Claritin D 12 hour or 24 hour: loratadine and pseudoephedrine tablets for children 12 years or older
  • Zyrtec syrup or chewable tablets: cetirizine for children 2 years or older
  • Zyrtec D 12 hour: cetirizine and pseudoephedrine tablets for children 12 years or older
  • Opcon-A: allergy relief eye drops for children 6 years or older
  • Naphcon A: allergy relief eye drops for children 6 years or older
  • Zaditor: allergy relief eye drops for children 3 years or older
  • Children’s Flonase: nasal steroid for children 4 years or older

Other Conditions

Some other over-the-counter medicines that can be useful include:

  • Reese’s Pinworm Itch Relief: for children 12 years or older
  • Neo-Synephrine Regular: nasal decongestant spray for children 12 years or older
  • Neo-Synephrine Mild: nasal decongestant spray for children 6 years or older
  • Ayr Saline Nasal Gel: helps moisturize dry noses and may prevent nose bleeds
  • Hibiclens: antiseptic/antimicrobial skin cleanser for recurrent skin infections, including MRSA
  • Nix shampoo: permethrin treatment for head lice
  • Rid shampoos: piperonyl/pyrethrum treatment for head lice
  • Compound W: wart remover
  • Benzoyl peroxide cream, pads, or gel for acne

What to Avoid

Medicines that you should likely avoid altogether include:

  • Aspirin: While it is no longer called Baby Aspirin, parents should still remember to not give chewable aspirin to kids unless specifically advised to do so by their pediatrician
  • Baby Orajel Homeopathic teething tablets and gels
  • Ipecac syrup: Parents were once told to keep ipecac in their home to induce vomiting in case of accidental poisonings. These days, you should just call poison control.

Confused about all of the over-the-counter medicines you see on pharmacy shelves these days?

Be sure to talk to your pediatrician about which medicines they recommend you use and which you should avoid, either because they don’t work, cause too many side effects, or are just plain dangerous.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you give a child Pepto Bismol for a stomach ache?

    It depends on the age. Children under the age of 12 should not be given Pepto Bismol. Children over the age of 12 can take Pepto Bismol.

    Children from ages 2 to 12 can take Pepto Kids, an upset stomach medicine that contains calcium carbonate instead of bismuth subsalicylate.

  • Can children take cough medicine?

    Children over the age of 2 can be given cough medicine to treat a cough. Babies and toddlers under the age of 2 should take cough medicine.

    Children’s cough medicines can contain different medications, such as dextromethorphan, guaifenesin, and phenylephrine, that help to calm a cough and ease congestion. 

    If you have any questions, check with your child's pediatrician.

  • What can I give my child to stop itching?

    Over-the-counter anti-itch lotions, creams, and ointment can be applied to bug bites, poison ivy, and other itchy rashes. These include hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, colloidal oatmeal cream or lotion, and topical Benadryl itch relief gel or spray.

    You can also give your child Benadryl (diphenhydramine) orally to stop itching. 

    If your child has an itchy rash of unclear origin or does not resolve with over-the-counter treatments, call the pediatrician.

Was this page helpful?
2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Library of Medicine. Reye syndrome.

  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. In the news: homeopathic teething gels and tablets.