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
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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).

Remember that aspirin isn't usually given to children or teens because of the risk of Reye's Syndrome. Parents should also avoid medicines like the original Pepto Bismol and Kaopectate, which may contain bismuth subsalicylate.

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 two 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 Advil
  • Delsym
  • Dimetapp
  • Little Noses
  • Children's Motrin
  • Mucinex
  • Pediacare
  • Robitussin
  • Sudafed
  • Triaminic
  • Children's Tylenol
  • Vicks

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 Drops
  • Gas-X Baby Antigas Infant Drops
  • Baby Orajel Medicated Teething Gel and Swabs
  • Little Teethers Oral Pain Relief Gel
  • Enfamil Fer-In-Sol Iron Supplement Drops
  • Enfamil Poly-Vi-Sol Multivitamin Supplement Drops
  • Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment and other moisturizers
  • Desitin Creamy and other diaper rash creams and ointments
  • Ocean Premium Saline Nasal Spray


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 Maximum Strength Medicated Anti-Itch Cream
  • Sarna Original Anti-Itch Lotion
  • Caladryl Clear
  • Itch-X Anti-Itch Spray
  • Domeboro Astringent Solution
  • Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Relief Gel or Spray, not to be used on large areas or with oral Benadryl


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
  • Wartner Cryogenic Wart Removal System
  • CompoundW Freeze Off Wart Removal System
  • Dr. Scholl's Clear Away One Step, Salicylic Acid Wart Remover
  • Lotrimin AF Antifungal Athlete's Foot Cream, often used for ringworm too
  • Lamisil AT for athlete's foot, jock itch, and ringworm
  • Tinactin Antifungal Cream for athlete's foot and ringworm
  • Benzoyl Peroxide cream, pads, or gel for acne


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
  • Fleet Pedia-Lax Liquid Stool Softener - Docusate sodium oral laxative (2y)
  • Fleet Pedia-Lax Quick Dissolve Strips - Senna oral laxative (2y)
  • Fleet - Children's Pedia-Lax Chewable Tablets - Magnesium Hydroxide laxative (2y)
  • Phillips Milk of Magnesia
  • Fletcher's Laxative For Kids - Senna laxative (2y)

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 Children's Lactose Intolerance Therapy - for children with lactose intolerance (3y)
  • Children's Pepto - a calcium carbonate antacid to help relieve heartburn in children (2y)
  • Emetrol for Nausea - may help nausea in children (2y)
  • Dramamine Chewable Formula - prevents motion sickness in children (2y)
  • Fiber Choice Sugar-Free Fiber Supplement - chewable, fruit-flavored fiber supplements for children (6y)
  • Tums

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.


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
  • Claritin (loratadine) syrup (2y)
  • Claritin (loratadine) RediTabs or tablets (6y)
  • Claritin D 12 hour (12y)
  • Claritin D 24 hour (12y)
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine) syrup (2y)
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine) chewable tablets or tablets (6y)
  • Zyrtec D 12 hour (12y)
  • Opcon-A Allergy Relief Eye Drops - for allergic conjunctivitis (6y)
  • Naphcon A Eye Drops - for allergic conjunctivitis (6y)
  • Zaditor Eye Itch Relief - for allergic conjunctivitis (3y)
  • Flonase - nasal steroid (2y)

Other Conditions

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

  • Reese's Pinworm Medicine - pinworm treatment (2y)
  • Neo-Synephrine Regular Strength Nasal Decongestant Spray - can temporarily relieve stuffy noses for teens
  • Ayr Saline Nasal Gel - helps moisturize dry noses and may prevent nose bleeds
  • Hibiclens Antiseptic / Antimicrobial Skin Cleanser - can be useful if your child gets recurrent skin infections, including MRSA
  • Nix or Rid - headlice shampoos

What to Avoid

Medicines that you should likely avoid altogether include:

  • Aspirin - While it is no longer called Baby Aspirin (Bayer voluntarily stopped calling low dose aspirin by that name in 2012), 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.
  • Benadryl cream or lotion - There is a concern that too high a dose can be absorbed if you use these forms of Benadryl. It is usually considered safer to use oral Benadryl and other types of itch creams.

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.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC health information for international travel 2016. Updated 2016.