Is It Safe to Give a Child Benadryl?

Have you ever given your child Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to get him to calm down? Or maybe you have to take a long car or airplane trip and your friends told you to give your daughter some Benadryl "to make traveling easier."

You might think that because it is safe to use for allergies, it might be fine to use to get them to sleep. While you might desire this side effect, there are dangers in giving children Benadryl or other antihistamines to make them drowsy.

signs of benadryl overdose
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Benadryl Uses

For years, Benadryl (or its generic counterpart diphenhydramine) has been considered a safe medicine for children. It is generally a very effective remedy for allergies and allergic reactions. It relieves itching and reduces swelling that is caused by allergic reactions.

The FDA has approved diphenhydramine to be used to relieve red, irritated, itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and runny nose caused by hay fever, allergies, or the common cold.

Diphenhydramine is used to relieve a cough caused by minor throat or airway irritation, and also to prevent and treat motion sickness. It is used to treat insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep).

Diphenhydramine is also used to control abnormal movements in people who have early-stage Parkinsonian syndromes (disorders of the nervous system that cause difficulties with movement, muscle control, and balance) or who are experiencing movement problems as a side effect of a medication.


One of the most common side effects of Benadryl and similar antihistamines is that it causes drowsiness. Warning labels indicate that people shouldn't attempt to drive or operate machinery after taking it or until they know how it will affect them.

For some weary parents, giving a dose of Benadryl to make their rambunctious toddler a little tired may be quite tempting, especially when traveling or during other periods when you need your child to be quieter than normal.

Unfortunately, giving kids these medications to get them to go to sleep can be more dangerous than you'd think. Across the country, children are ending up in emergency rooms and hospitals because they have essentially overdosed on antihistamines.


Using antihistamines such as Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton to get your kids to sleep carries significant risk. Although these medicines are effective when you use them for allergies, they are dosed according to weight in young children and giving a child too much can be very dangerous.

Drowsiness is a common side effect of antihistamines such as Benadryl but some children experience the opposite effect. Benadryl can cause some children to be hyperactive. While this may be acceptable if your child needs the medication to combat an allergic reaction, it is not ideal if you are attempting to use it to get your child to calm down.

Benadryl and generic diphenhydramine are not approved for use in children younger than age 2. If they are in a combination cold medicine, they should not be given to a child younger than 4.

Risk of Death

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from diphenhydramine increased between 2011 - 2016, although those statistics are not specific to any age range.

Children have been given Benadryl in sippy cups and bottles in an attempt to get them to sleep. They are given far more than their bodies can handle and don't survive or need to be admitted to the hospital to recover.

You might think this won't happen to you, or that you would never put Benadryl in your child's cup to get them to go to sleep in the first place, even if they might really need to calm down.

Unfortunately, even if you are careful—and even if your child is old enough to take Benadryl—this can still happen to your child. There have been reported cases of diphenhydramine toxicity deaths when daycare workers have used the medication to get the babies to sleep without their parents' knowledge.

Or, more than one person in the house might give the child Benadryl without another adult knowing it, causing an inadvertent overdose. So. it's important that every parent knows about this danger and takes steps to prevent it.

If you believe your baby or young child has a true sleep problem, talk to their healthcare provider. There are true sleep difficulties—like sleep apnea—that can affect children and need to be evaluated and treated by a pediatrician or sleep specialist.

Do not give your child medicine to help them sleep unless it is prescribed by her doctor. If it is, follow the directions exactly and monitor them for signs of overdose.

Signs of Overdose

There are certain symptoms that may alert you to the fact that your child or another individual may have taken too much Benadryl. Common symptoms of a diphenhydramine overdose include:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Blurred vision
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry eyes
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Depression
  • Difficult to wake or arouse
  • Hallucinations
  • Nervousness
  • Tremors/shaking
  • Dry, red skin

If you have concerns that your child was given Benadryl and is experiencing these symptoms, contact Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 from anywhere in the United States. If your child is having difficulty breathing or you cannot wake her up, call 911 or seek medical attention immediately.

Preventing Overdose

If you are a parent, talk to everyone that cares for your child about the risks associated with Benadryl and other antihistamines. Be sure that all of your child's caregivers—including daycare, babysitter, and grandparents—know that it is never okay to give a child Benadryl to help them sleep, and it should never be given to a child under 2 years old, period.

If you do need to give your child an antihistamine for an approved reason—such as an allergic reaction or seasonal allergy symptoms—make sure you are using a medicine that is appropriate for your child's age and weight. If you aren't sure what medicine to use, contact your child's healthcare provider to get specific instructions.


Parents want to do everything they can to give their children a good life and keep them safe. But we all get exhausted and frustrated at times and just need a break. Using an antihistamine like Benadryl, though, is not safe.

If your child is young and still sleeping in a crib, consider putting them in their crib and walking away. They might continue crying but they will be in a safe place and you can breathe and take a few moments to get yourself together.

If you need more than a few minutes respite, ask your significant other, a grandparent, or a trusted friend to come help you. Many friends and family members are more than happy to help for a few hours so an exhausted parent can get a break.

If your child has difficulty sleeping on a regular basis, talk to her pediatrician. You may need to see a specialist such as a pulmonologist or ENT. These specialists can evaluate your child for sleep problems such as sleep apnea or other issues that can make sleeping through the night difficult.

A Word From Verywell

Although Benadryl and antihistamine overdose are rare, cases are on the rise. These medicines are readily available at nearly every grocery store, pharmacy, and "big box" store.

People who care for your child may not be aware of how dangerous they can be when they are not used properly. Take all the precautions that you can to make sure your child only gets these medicines if she really needs it. Talk to her health care provider prior to giving her any medicine to be sure if it is safe and necessary.

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Article Sources
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