If It Were My Child: No Benadryl on the Plane

If It Were My Child: No Benadryl on the Plane

Celebrating with family and friends is one yummy thing in life even in the face of family dynamics-drama.  I know it doesn’t feel yummy for everyone.  I’m not trying to sound Pollyanna-ey.  I’ve had the dark years of holidays, too.  When the being together made me feel lonelier than truly connected.  But, that’s not where I find myself now, fortunately.  The people in my life who are less than 3 feet tall also decorate these times together and make it better and better.  Who knew you could get so excited about a little, “gobble, gobble.”

The smallest in our family also make holidays more complicated though.  It’s the over the river and through the woods part that can be really tough.

I get piles of questions in clinic about traveling with kids. I wanted to get one thing out there:

If it were my child, I would not use Benadryl on the airplane, car or train to knock my kid out.  I never have and hopefully never will.  Yes, I heard about the 2-year old getting kicked off the Southwest plane in October for being too loud.  I hear you in not wanting to be the ditto on that story.  I know how painful flying can be with a squirming, screaming infant or toddler and the surrounding public.  With F (my first born), we took more than 10 commercial flights in his first year. I remain stunned at how rude the public can be when they feel inconvenienced by flying and sitting around children.  Nonetheless, I still wouldn’t push the syringe full of Benadryl to make it better.

My rationale is part philosophical and part safety based.  Benadryl is a medicine designed to help children with symptoms of allergies.  It’s an anti-histamine (it works against histamines produced by cells in the body as a response to an allergic trigger).  But when you give an oral medicine, it enters the blood stream and has effects all over the body.  With Benadryl, those effects are often on the brain, gastrointestinal system and skin.  One of the side effects from Benadryl is that it’s sedating, hence why people talk about using it for travel.  Crash out, knock out, eyelid closed, tired in some kids. Trouble is the response to Benadryl is inconsistent between kids and can be dangerous.  Children can get dry mouth, stomachache, nausea, vomiting or rarely an allergic response to the med, heart palpitations, rash or other neurologic changes.  And, some kids go absolutely nutty.  A paradoxical (opposite) response, some kids get totally wired and a little crazy on it, too.  The crazy-hyper-nutty is not dangerous, but can be disastrous in a travel setting.

The last place you want to be with an unexpected or undesirable medication side effect is on the airplane at 35,000 feet.

Your pediatrician cannot predict what kind of response your child will have to a new medicine they have never tried.  Period.

The bottom line is this:  we work hard to avoid using medication in children unless they absolutely need it.  Using a medicine for parental convenience is not an indication to medicate your child. I just can’t advise that you put medicine in your child’s mouth for ease of travel or convenience.  Especially since we never know which child (and why) will have side effects.  Side effects to medications represent a huge number of visits to pediatricians and emergency rooms, especially for kids under age 5, as it’s often their first-time exposure to a medication.

Some Points on using Benadryl in Children:

  • Benadryl is an anti-histamine, designed to help children suffering from mild allergy symptoms (itchy nose, sneezing, itching of skin, hives).
  • Never ever use Benadryl in a child under age 1.  This sedating effect could be more sedating than you would want.
  • Using a medication for your convenience is never an indication for medication in a child.
  • Some children have a paradoxical effect (opposite from the desired effect) and get wired, hyper and a little nutty.
  • Always talk with your pediatrician before giving any medicine (OTC or prescribed) in a child less than 2 years of age
  • Some pediatricians may disagree with me and advise you to use Benadryl for travel.  If you decide to use Benadryl for travel, try a dose at home first.  Don’t attempt a new med at the airport or on the plane for the first time.

 

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Wendy Sue Swanson MD MBe

Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician and mother of two young boys. She maintains a busy pediatric practice and writes Seattle Mama Doc blog, the first pediatrician-authored blog for a major Children's hospital.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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