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Benadryl when Flying with Kids

Expert Pediatrics Q&A

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Updated January 07, 2014

Q. Can I give my kids Benadryl to help them sleep when we fly? We are planning a cross-country airplane trip this summer and I am worried that my kids might not do well on the plane. Sam, Dallas, Texas

A. If you don't think your kids are ready for a plane flight, then unless the trip is truly necessary, you might delay it for a year or two and plan a closer road trip this year instead.

While it might seem like a quick and easy solution to potential problems you might have when flying with young kids, most pediatricians try to discourage parents from giving kids anything to sedate them on an airplane. The benefits usually don't outweigh the risks.

Some good reasons why you might not want to give your child an antihistamine like Benadryl can include that:

 

  • Some children become hyper and irritable when they take antihistamines, which is exactly what you don't want on your flight.

     

  • The sedative effects of Benadryl may last a good 4 to 6 hours, which may be longer than your flight, and even after your child wakes up, he may be drowsy or groggy for several hours afterwards. So even if he sleeps on the flight, you might end up with a fussy and irritable child afterwards.

     

  • Unless the flight coincides with a nap time, making your child sleep by giving him a sedative will likely mess up the rest of his schedule, so that he doesn't want to go to sleep until late that night, leading to a late wake-up the next morning, etc.
These other tips for flying with kids might be helpful and could make using a sedative unnecessary:

 

  • Bring enough help with you to care for all of your kids on the flight. One parent and three or four young preschool age kids or toddlers is probably not going to work well.

     

  • Get your kids their own seat on the plane and seat them in their regular car seat for familiarity. Having their comfort items, like a blanket or favorite stuffed animal, should also help your child feel safe and secure.

     

  • Have enough toys or play things to keep your kids occupied on the flight. A portable DVD player or video game player can be a good idea for older kids.

     

  • Schedule a non-stop flight during off peak times so the airport is less crowded and you don't have to worry about changing planes.

     

  • Plan for delays and have drinks and snacks just in case you have to wait for your flight.

     

  • Check most of your luggage so that you have your hands free for your kids, but do bring a carry on with some extra clothes in case your kids need to change.

     

  • Try to stay on your children's schedule for naps, snacks, and meals, so that they don't get hungry or overtired.

     

  • Keep them distracted, especially when the plane is boarding, taking off, and landing, which seem to be the hardest part of the flight for most young kids. For older kids, chewing gum can be helpful to prevent their ears from popping when the plane is landing and taking off, but keep in mind that this is a choking hazard for younger kids, who can get a similar effect by drinking something at this time during the flight.
If you really think a sedative is going to be necessary during a flight, talk to your Pediatrician about the risks and benefits and be sure to try it before the flight to make sure your child doesn't have a bad reaction and become irritable and hyper.

And remember that you don't really want to sedate your child to make the flight more comfortable for the other people on the plane. The only time to even consider it would be if you think that the experience would be too stressful for your own child and the trip is really necessary.

Is giving Benadryl for a plane flight really 'drugging' your child as some people suggest? That is probably going a little far, as Benadryl is an approved OTC medication and most people don't consider it 'drugging' their child and wouldn't think twice to give it to their child if they had hives or allergies. But still, how far would you go to make your child sleep on a plane? If Benadryl didn't work, would you want to give him a stronger sedative, like Valium?

 

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