Medically Reviewed on 10/24/2022

Brand Name: Benadryl, Sominex, Unisom, Nytol, and several others

Generic Name: diphenhydramine

Drug Class: Generation Antihistamines, Antihistamines, Alkylamine Derivatives, Dermatologics, Other, Antihistamine/Decongestant Combos

What is diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and what is it used for?

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is an antihistamine used for treating allergic reactions. Histamine is released by the body during several types of allergic reactions and—to a lesser extent—during some viral infections, such as the common cold.

When histamine binds to receptors on cells, it stimulates changes within the cells that lead to the release of chemicals that cause sneezing, itching, and increased mucus production. Antihistamines compete with histamine for cell receptors and bind to the receptors without stimulating the cells.

In addition, they prevent histamine from binding and stimulating the cells. Diphenhydramine also blocks the action of acetylcholine (anticholinergic effect) and is used as a sedative because it causes drowsiness. 

What are the side effects of diphenhydramine (Benadryl)?

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) side effects include:

Diphenhydramine also may cause:

Diphenhydramine should be used with caution (if at all) in persons with narrow-angle glaucoma, prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate gland), hyperthyroidism, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), and asthma.

What is the dosage for diphenhydramine (Benadryl)?

Diphenhydramine doses vary depending on the formulation and have their maximal effect about one hour after it is taken.

  • When used to treat insomnia, it is prescribed at bedtime. Individuals over the age of 60 years are especially sensitive to the sedating and anticholinergic effects of diphenhydramine, and the dose should be reduced.
  • A common regimen for treating adult allergic reactions is 25-50 mg every 4-6 hours not to exceed 300 mg daily.
  • Insomnia is treated with 50 mg taken 30 minutes before bedtime.


Common Allergies: Symptoms and Signs See Slideshow

What drugs interact with diphenhydramine?

Diphenhydramine adds to (exaggerates) the sedating effects of alcohol and other drugs than can cause sedation.

This includes the following drug classes:

Benzodiazepines for-anxiety

Narcotic pain medications and their derivatives

Tricyclic antidepressants

Certain antihypertensive medications

Diphenhydramine also can intensify the drying effects of other medications with anticholinergic properties (for example, dicyclomine [Bentyl] and bethanechol [Urecholine], probanthine).

Is diphenhydramine safe to take if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?

  • Diphenhydramine has not been adequately evaluated in pregnant women. It should be used only if the benefit outweighs the potential but unknown risks.
  • Diphenhydramine is secreted in breast milk. Because of the risk of stimulation and seizures in infants, especially newborns and premature infants, antihistamines should not be used by nursing mothers.


Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is an OTC and prescription injection medication used to treat hay fever, hives, allergic conjunctivitis, motion sickness, and mild cases of Parkinsonism. Side effects, drug interactions, dosage, storage, and pregnancy safety information should be reviewed before taking this medication.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/24/2022
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