Allergies or Just a Cold?

As the fall season approaches and kids head back to school, runny nose, cough, and nasal congestion become commonplace in both children and adults. Colds run rampant during this time of the year, but there is always the possibility that the same symptoms could be caused by seasonal (fall) allergies.

Here are several questions whose answers can help you tell the difference:

1. How long have the symptoms lasted?

Cold symptoms generally last from seven to 10 days, with symptoms appearing one at a time: first sneezing, then runny nose, then congestion

Allergy symptoms continue as long as a person is exposed to the allergy-causing agent (watch for symptoms lasting over 2 weeks) and appear all at once

2. Does your child have a fever?

Colds may start with a fever

Allergies are not associated with fevers

3. Does your child appear “sick”?

Colds make kids feel tired, listless and have a poor appetite

Allergies can cause some sleepiness, but kids with allergies do not “act sick”

4. Is you child having itchy, watery eyes?

Colds are not associated with itchy eyes, some kids with colds can also get eye infections, but these cause non-itchy red eyes with thick discharge

Allergies cause kids to have itchy, watery eyes; you may notice lots of eye rubbing with redness or swelling of the skin under the eyes

5. How often is your child sneezing?

Colds cause only occasional sneezing

Allergies cause repeated episodes of sneezing; sneezing can occur two and three times in a row

6. What color and consistency is your child’s mucus?

Colds usually cause thick, clear or yellowish nasal mucus lasting only 3-10 days

Allergies cause an itchy runny nose with thin, watery, clear nasal mucus; you may notice your child rubbing or wrinkling their nose to relieve the nasal itch

Although cold and allergy symptoms can overlap quite a bit, close observation over time can help pinpoint the correct diagnosis. In fact, most over the counter cold medications contain drugs that provide relief for both cold and allergy symptoms. But if you suspect allergies in your child, call your doctor to schedule an appointment to discuss allergy prevention/avoidance and long-term treatment strategies.

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