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What’s Really in Children’s Medications? {GUEST POST}

This is a guest post by Erin Odom of The Humbled Homemaker.

What is really in Childrens Medicine

In November 2000, then 3-year-old Brianna Maya nearly died after her parents gave her children’s Motrin.

Her parents thought they were doing everything right, recounts an ABC news report. They followed their doctor’s suggestions to alternate doses of Motrin and Tylenol to help alleviate Brianna’s fever and cough.

But what the Mayas didn’t know was that the children’s medications they were giving their daughter would leave her with rare but life-threatening side effects.

And she would never be the same.

What Are we Giving our Children?

Image by tinpalace

Reading this article made my heart not only ache for Brianna and her family—but also for parents around the world who don’t blink an eye at giving their little ones over-the-counter children’s medications.

I am have been one of those parents.

The day before my firstborn received her first scheduled childhood vaccinations (which we do on a delayed schedule), many well-meaning friends and relatives suggested: “Just go ahead and give her Tylenol even before the shots. It will make her feel better.”

Even though I was just beginning my natural living journey, I still didn’t feel right about giving my newborn any medication “just in case.”

Couldn’t we at least wait to give her medications until she exhibited symptoms of needing them?

You see, my journey to natural living and eating real food has propelled me to re-think everything my family ingests. I no longer want to go with the norm.

Instead, I want to arm myself with the truth and seek out God’s best for my family.

I want to know exactly what I’m giving my children. So, I set out to investigate the common ingredients in three children’s over-the-counter medications.

RELATED: Is Food Coloring Bad For You?

The list of ingredients is lengthy, but here are some top ones and reasons to avoid them:

Children’s Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Active Ingredient: acetaminophen

What it does: fever reducer and pain reliever

Why you should avoid it: Among other possible side effects, acetaminophen can cause difficulty breathing and swallowing. Even more alarming, it can lead to acute liver failure. (Think about how much Tylenol most Americans take in the course of a lifetime!)

Other alarming ingredients: parabens, which potentially cause cancer; blue #1, which aggravates asthma; red #40, which can lead to hyperactivity and lower IQ; high fructose corn syrup, which may lead to a plethora of diseases, including insulin resistance, heart disease and cancer; sodium benzoate, which potentially contributes to hyperactivity when paired with food dyes (like blue #1 and red #40).

Children’s Ibuprofen (Motrin)

Active Ingredient: ibuprofen

What is does: fever reducer and pain reliever

Why you should avoid it: This one was eye opening for me. Those who take ibuprofen may have an increased chance for sudden heart attack or stroke—not to mention that this drug can cause ulcers, bleeding or holes in the stomach or intestines.

Other alarming ingredients: Along with red #40 and blue #1, Motrin contains acesulfame potassium, an artificial sweetener which critics have suggested (but have not proven) is potentially cancer-causing.

Children’s Benadryl


Image by LittleMan

Active Ingredients: Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride

What it does: relieves allergy symptoms, such as itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing

Why you should avoid it: There’s a long list on this one: Some of the most alarming? It can lead to increased heart rate, hallucinations, delirium, motor impairment, short-term memory loss and irregular breathing.

Other alarming ingredients: Saccharin sodium, which is an artificial sweetener once thought to cause cancer, but the FDA has now deemed it safe for consumption and sorbitol, which can cause extreme abdominal pain for those with irritable bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal issues.


Finding out there are potentially harmful ingredients in conventional children’s medications can be frustrating. Thankfully, there are some great alternatives to treating childhood (and adult) illnesses, like:

Is There Ever a Place for these Medications?

I am not one to discount conventional medications altogether. Instead, I feel that my job as a parent is to be informed, try natural (God’s medicine!) first and rely on other medications (over-the-counter or prescribed) as a last resort—and only after I’ve exhausted all other options.

But at least I know what I’m giving my children.

I feel bad for those who don’t.

Cases like Brianna Maya’s might be few and far between, but they still exist. It also seems like recalls of children’s medications happen all the time.

Why take risks when there are other methods of healing?

Do you avoid over-the-counter children’s medications? Why or why not? What alternative remedies do you use when your children are sick?

*Disclaimer: This post is solely my personal opinion after spending hours of research on this subject. I hope I have laid out some facts that will spur you on to do your own research. I am in no way a medical expert, and you should always conduct your own research and consult your trusted medical professional before making decisions about your family’s health.

imageErin Odom is a journalist and blogger at The Humbled Homemaker. She’s a 30-year-old stay-at-home wife and mother who’s “hopelessly flawed on my own but redeemed by my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I’m a work in progress: the same God who created me in my mother’s womb is still weaving and spinning to make me who He wants me to be.” Please visit her for more great research articles on natural living and natural mothering. The Humbled Homemaker is for less-than-perfect wives and mothers who desire to better themselves as homemakers and live a more natural life.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

About The Author

56 thoughts on “What’s Really in Children’s Medications? {GUEST POST}”

  1. I once had a friend tell me that she was frightened by my homemade cough syrup because it contained alcohol. I hope she remains blissfully ignorant about what she uses, seeing as the alcohol content is about the same.

  2. I really liked this post Erin! Thank you. I’ll be looking for alternatives to the allergy medicines that we all use. We use homeopathic teething and cold care we use for our 1 year old. Time to work our way through the medicine chest. 🙂

  3. Jennifer, I’m sorry you feel that way about the post! You are right that someone would have to drink massive amounts of Tylenol for the effects of the high fructose corn syrup to take root.

    But that was not my point.

    My point was that we as parents should be informed of exactly what is in the medications we choose to give our children. Yes, the amount of high fructose corn syrup in Tylenol itself may be small, but when coupled with the amount of high fructose corn syrup the average American gets daily through the average American diet, I think it all adds up. If I can avoid high fructose corn syrup & other unhealthy additives–even in small doses–why wouldn’t I? Doesn’t every little bit count?

    If you will read the post closely, you will see that I didn’t say the amount of high fructose corn syrup in Tylenol directly causes disease. Rather, I listed the alarming side effects of the medications and then listed some of the other alarming ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup.

    The post was not meant to be a direct correlation in between the small amounts of high fructose corn syrup in Tylenol and the diseases. Instead, it pointed out some of the harmful effects of the sweetener that is one of many additives in the medicine.

    I noted at the end of the post that I do not entirely discount all conventional medicines. I have Tylenol and Motrin in my medicine cabinet–to be used in cases of emergency. I think there is a time & place for conventional medicines, but I also believe it is my job as a parent to investigate exactly what I am giving to my children.

    I encourage you to do your own research & come to your own conclusions. I am no expert by ANY means, but I am a professional journalist who doesn’t write something for the public that I haven’t already spent time researching the legitimacy of myself.

    Blessings to you as you research what is best for your individual family!

  4. All medicines, and even natural products can cause side effects. The side effects from these medicines can sound quite dramatic. Is there any data on how many children have suffered these side effects at the recommended doses? If not, how do we assess the danger?

    1. John, you are absolutely right that all medications have side effects. I believe the percentage of children suffering the most alarming of these effects is small. However, that was not the point of the post. The point was simply food for thought. I know in the past I didn’t give much thought to what I put inside my body (food or medicine). After I became a mom, I desired to dig a little deeper and know exactly what I am giving my family. Thanks for reading!

  5. Generally, we don’t run to medications and use natural remedies where possible. There are a couple instances when we take over-the-counter meds with thanksgiving: one, if one of us has a bad allergic reaction we deal with it quickly; secondly, one of my daughters had febrile convulsions/seizures and I learned at the first sign of her being warm/unwell, to get some tylenol into her quicly. She spiked so fast no one could believe it. We couldn’t always avoid the seizure but many times did or lessened the severity by responding quickly with medication and other interventions to cool down her body. I currently take drugs to keep myself walking and am thankful for that too even though there are side-effects. Having said that, I also work hard at avoiding chemicals and dyes as much as possible.

    1. Oh, I ought to mention though that my oldest child actually once had an anaphylactic reaction to an over-the-counter cold/flu med and that I used to get the flu shot and two years in a row had a serious reaction (and of course am more leery of any vaccination now) so I really believe that the pros/cons should be seriously considered in each situation – not something to take lightly.

      1. Wow! It seems you have a ton of experience with reactions! I get nervous before I give my girls anything–especially the vaccines we choose to give–but I just choose to pray and know God has it ultimately under control.

  6. Lisa @Granola Catholic

    For colds and minor ailments I like to use zinc and vitamin C, that with a little honey and ginger tea. It seems to take care of most colds for us here.

  7. To be completely honest, Amy, I would think that in an emergency situation would be the time to give it. That is how I feel at least. I think it is our responsibilities as parents to be informed and seek out alternatives and to only use conventional medications in emergency situations. Hopefully–those situations are few and far between?

    I am allergic to cats (although my deathly allergic, but I do get flu-like symptoms). I normally just “rough it” or try to avoid cats since it’s not a life-or-death situation. My husband will tell you I will fight tooth and nail not to take an allergy pill.

    I pray you find something you are comfortable with, but, again, it seems a severe allergy may be a good reason to give it.

  8. There is an amino acid added to Tylenol in the U.K. Which reduces the incidence of liver problems. It isn’t added in the U.S. because the manufacturer isn’t forced to. My youngest has severe allergic eczema. We have tried mist natural alternatives and haven’t hit one that works as well or as consistently as Benadryl. Cleaning up her diet made the biggest difference so far.

    1. Sometimes I wish I lived in another country! They don’t allow GMO foods either, do they?

      I really don’t know much about eczema, but I do use a cloth-safe diaper cream that I have *heard* is good for eczema as well. It’s called CJ’s BUTTer:

      I just linked to the first one that came up, but they have different sizes and price ranges. They sell samples as well. Might be worth a try? My 10-month-old suffered with yeast infections for months until we finally figured out what it was and bought the CJ’s yeast plus, which contains neem oil. It knocked it out!

    2. Sigh…I love when Europe demonstrates so clearly that the U.S. is doing it wrong…

  9. Drugs should be used in life-or-death situations. Period.

    We use essential oils, and they work wonders in both preventing and knocking out illnesses.

  10. When my oldest children were little, I didn’t know anything about the dangers of OTC meds, but now we avoid them almost completely. I have arnica pills that we use for pain or injuries of any kind. We also have coldcalm tablets and elderberry syrup for colds. We use manuka honey for everything from colds/sore throats to cuts and burns. It’s amazing stuff! Honestly, since we started avoiding chemicals, sugar, and processed foods we very rarely even get sick. I have a bottle of benadryl and a bottle of motrin “just in case”, but the last time I can think I used one of them was when my daughter broke her arm, and I gave her a little motrin the first night because she was really sore. That was several years ago!

    1. Those are great remedies! We also keep some medicines around “just in case.” They normally expire before we can use them up, but that’s ok!

      My daughter had sleep apnea and extremely large tonsils, so she had to have them out this past June. We were blessed with a natural-friendly ENT. He gives all of his patients arnica to take before and after surgery. It was in the form of a chewable (but tasteless) tablet. She still asks for her arnica every day!

  11. I have friends who have had wonderful results treating seasonal allergies with bee pollen- but the pollen MUST be local. Mild allergies might be treatable with LOCAL raw honey. But it’s controversial so definitely do your research.

  12. I would love a seriously effective alternative to Benadryl, too. My son is allergic to some sort of spring pollen. Simply staying indoors provides very little relief. We cannot afford to create a sealed, filtered environment and keep him in it 24/7 for 2-4 months straight! So he takes dye-free Benadryl (no reason to swallow unnecessary artificial coloring) 1-3 times a day during those months. It works wonderfully, and he’s had no side effects, so I try not to worry about it. But we’d use a more natural option if it actually worked.

    1. I have had hay fever since childhood, and have found vitamin C supplements to be VERY effective–as in, I keep Benadryl around, because it can be a true lifesaver in an emergency situation, but I never need hay fever meds anymore, just 2000mg/day of vitamin C. Friends have tried the same, also with happy results.

    2. I had bad seasonal allergies as a kid, but I have mostly grown out of it. I don’t think my parents gave me much allergy medicine because I remember getting in trouble in school for blowing my nose so much! Haha! I have often just suffered through it, but I know that’s not ideal.

      Have you tried local honey?

      I am also interested in what Heather said about vitamin C! I have taken more Vit. C supplements in my adulthood (especially while pregnant), but I never associated it with my decrease in allergies. It’s worth a try!

      1. I know there are better quality ones out there, but I honestly get fine results with the 1000mg vitamin C’s Costco sells under their Kirkland brand

    3. I give my son local honey to combat his seasonal allergies, and it works wonders!

  13. Thanks for the good information! I try to avoid over the counter medications as much as possible as well! I recently read a fabulous article from WAPF about natural, traditional remedies for childhood illnesses — it had some good info on bringing down a fever naturally. Here is the link:

    1. That article is awesome! Thanks so much for sharing!! I’m definitely bookmarking it!

  14. When you include things like “high fructose corn syrup, which may lead to a plethora of diseases, including insulin resistance…” next to your other “claims” it makes me question the legitimacy of everything you’re written. You would have to drink massive amounts of Tylenol to have anything like this happen and it makes the rest of your post seem ridiculous.

    1. Yes, but that HFCS adds to all the other little bits of HCFS that kids get…and, of course, kids are small, so it takes much less to cause problems. AND HFCS is basically all made from GMO corn, which adds those issues to the ones inherent in HFCS.

    2. Jennifer,
      I’m sure Erin will reply too, but I’m guessing she’s just pointing out how ridiculous it is to put a sweetener – a harmful one – in with all the other not-so-safe stuff, in a medicine for children of all places.
      THanks, Katie

      1. That’s fine. I agree that they don’t really need a sweetener. And I’m not in favor of doling out tylenol whenever I think a child might have a little ache or pain. But the amounts in a few doses will never lead to insulin resistance or heart disease. It laughable really. My husband studies metabolic disorders he agreed that was a silly thing to say. Especially since Erin suggests honey as one of her alternative treatments. I agree that honey may provide some relief for seasonal allergies (and it’s also a wonderful cough suppressant as I discovered when I was pregnant and couldn’t and didn’t want to take any medications). But there’s much, much more sugar in honey than a dose of tylenol.

        1. An amount of honey is certainly not going to have “more sugar” than an equal amount of Tylenol. Also, HFCS as usually used has a fructose to glucose ratio that is unbalanced, which is what causes the body to process it more like booze than like sugar. And, of course, it utterly lacks the healthy and medicinal components of raw organic honey.

  15. IMO the “adult” ibuprofen is BETTER than children’s. The drug is the same, it just comes without the food dyes/artificial sweeteners.

    We use a lot of “alternates”. I keep the pharmacy stuff on hand for emergencies -i.e., child suddenly and inexplicably breaks out in hives, etc.

    BTW, I took some “routine” antibiotics in March and it caused severe side effects, including jaundice and hepatitis. While they were investigating the liver thing, the specialists told me that the TWO biggest stressors of the liver are alcohol and acetaminophen (Tylenol).

    Some of our “home” remedies:
    Garlic oil and breastmilk for ear infections

    Tea tree oil for lice and as an antiseptic wash for infections. Used this to treat folliculitis and ingrown toenails.

    Pineapple and bromelain for pinworms.

    Honey for second degree burns

    menthol (Vicks) for congestion

    Devil’s Claw for gout/inflammatory pain

    Fevers are tricky! I don’t know what you can use instead of ibuprofen to bring it down, but I can warn against using alcohol as a sponge bath. It FEELS like you’re cooling with alcohol, because it evaporates so quickly, but it doesn’t work and could be harmful.

  16. Where do you find dye-free benadryl? I have to use it every once in a great while with my daughter. I’d looove a natural alternative to it too!

    1. You can’t buy the Benadryl brand anymore at all. They closed down the plant it was made at. I haven’t found a dye-free alternative brand. I have a child with a peanut/tree nut allergy, and other sensitivities so I’ve looked everywhere since I HAVE to have it on hand.

      1. Milehimama below said she gets the dye free at Target or Walmart. I cannot remember the last time I bought it, but, thankfully, we have not had to use it. I sometimes take local honey for seasonal allergies, and that seems to help. The more local the better! I try to avoid other allergens, like cats. To be honest, I would think a severe allergy–like a life-or-death situation–would be the exact time and place TO USE a conventional medication. My point is that these medicines are WAY over-used. I would not beat yourself up over having to give your daughter medicine occasionally for a nut allergy.

        1. I don’t have a problem giving my kids conventional meds when I think they are needed. I see things like Benadryl and my daughter’s EpiPen as blessings from God. If she has a reaction she most likely would die without them. I’ll look at Target and Walmart again for Benadryl to see if they have any left, but I think they pulled all of it from the shelves because of a recall.

          1. My husband uses an inhalor for his tree nut allergy (which induces asthma, though it is a mild allergy). I am so glad God gave us natural medicine AND the science to develop other medicines in cases of emergency. I hope you find what you need!

      2. Those peanut allergies are SERIOUS! That’s one place I’d turn to conventional medicine, too, Linda. Thank you!

  17. My husband had a neighbor who was a liver doc. He said he’d never let his kids take Tylenol or take it himself since he’s seen what it does to livers. After he said that, I haven’t taken it again!

    1. What a testimony! I’m going to let others know that as well! It’s sad how often tylenol is used–and abused!

  18. I just did a little research and it appears that the risks are the same with children’s and adult’s ibuprofen. I would love to hear suggestions for bringing down a fever! I don’t mind letting fevers go but when they interfere with sleep it seems a little counter-productive. We need sleep to heal too. We’ve done cool wash cloths and tepid baths and last time even tried egg whites on the feet. But these things only work while you’re doing them. I didn’t actually take my daughter’s temp when she was last sick but I’m guessing it was a good 105 or so. Not sure what to do when it’s the middle of the night and I have to keep soaking her feet with egg whites! 🙂

    1. I’m sorry you beat me to it! Yes, I was alarmed to see the adult side effects as well, as my husband has been an avid advil liquid-gel user for years. (Hmmmm…that sounds bad. He only takes it when he has a headaches…but still!) I am trying to encourage him to at least alternate the medicines he takes if he still feels he needs them because I feel like it might be less strain on one particular organ that way. Does that make sense?

      As far as headaches go, etc. in adults, I am starting to wonder if they are being caused by an underlying allergy or something. I think it’s important to get to the bottom of the cause of the symptoms instead of just treating the symptoms themselves.

      As far as a fever in the middle of the night: I think a lower-grade fever is healthy and a sign that the body is fighting infection. However, I would probably personally use a conventional medicine if the fever were as high as 105! That sounds pretty high to me! I would probably put my child in a cool bath–even in the middle of the night. I would probably stay with them and not get much sleep myself.

    2. Hi Christy,

      I am a nurse and mother of 4 boys (ages 8-16). A fever can be good, it’s your body’s natural way to fight whatever bug you’ve got. I know that it’s scary when it’s happening to your little one. I think cool rags are the best, especially on the forehead, in the armpits and groin area. You don’t want to make your child cold, or the body will start to shiver which is the body’s way to increase body temp. Unfortunately sleepless nights happen….the joys of parenthood! A fever that gets 104 or more and doesn’t decrease with cool rags is alarming. A high enough fever (104+) for a long period of time can cause brain damage.

      As for headaches, honey and warm water. Honey is a natural anti-inflammatory. I get a lot of headaches, it works within minutes!!

      1. Thanks so much for the tip for headaches! I get migraines from time to time and usually stave them off with 3 extra-strength Tylenol. But honey is a much better alternative!! I will definitely try this, thank you, thank you!

        1. Yes, you drink the honey and warm water. I get a lot of headaches. I used to take 4 200mg tabs of Advil. I was very happy to find this alternative!

          Jin Shin (accu-touch; accupuncture without the needles) really works too. Two locations; Hold your big toes and thumbs on temple.

  19. Do you know if the risks are the same for ibuprofen that is not children’s? When my daughter’s fever gets super high and she’s really uncomfortable and can’t sleep then I’ll crush an ibuprofen tablet and give her about 1/4 of it. I’ve only done this a couple times but would like to know if the risks are the same as they are with the children’s version. Thanks!

  20. I would LOVE to have an alternative to Children’s Benadryl. My daughter is severely allergic to tree nuts, as well as gets hives from cats. We use the dye-free version of Benadryl, but I always cringe when I give it to her – even in emergency situations.

    1. To be completely honest, Amy, I would think that in an emergency situation would be the time to give it. That is how I feel at least. I think it is our responsibilities as parents to be informed and seek out alternatives and to only use conventional medications in emergency situations. Hopefully–those situations are few and far between?

      I am allergic to cats (although my deathly allergic, but I do get flu-like symptoms). I normally just “rough it” or try to avoid cats since it’s not a life-or-death situation. My husband will tell you I will fight tooth and nail not to take an allergy pill.

      I pray you find something you are comfortable with, but, again, it seems a severe allergy may be a good reason to give it.

    2. I used to have quite severe allergies, and now I live allergy symptom free. I have written about it in a post here:
      I use a 100% natural spray called Allergy Release, and it is a miracle worker.

    3. Yup! We have to carry a (dye free if possible) allergy med for my youngest…when having a bad reaction there is no choice but to give the meds. Of course, eliminating allergens where possible and eating well to boost immunity are proactive things we do to ensure her health. We have also delayed vaccinations.

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