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Allergies or Just a Cold

By Mara P. Paradis, M.D.

Allergies or Just a Cold image

Stuffy nose, congestion, sneezes…how can you tell if your child has allergies or if it’s just a cold?

Allergies and the common cold can have many similar symptoms, including runny nose, watery eyes, cough and congestion, so it can be difficult for parents to know whether their child is having an allergic reaction or is battling a virus.

A cold is a virus that must run its course. Over-the-counter medications, approved by your child’s physician, may help with some symptoms, but the cold will generally stick around for 7-10 days. Allergies, on the other hand, will continue as long as the child is in contact with the substance causing the allergic reaction.

Boys Town Pediatrics provides a checklist to help determine if your child has allergies or just a cold:

  • Have your child’s cold symptoms lingered for more than 2 weeks?
  • Does your child have a chronic (continual) cough?
  • Is the mucus clear (not yellow or green)?
  • Does your child have a persistent stuffy nose or breathe through his/her mouth?
  • Are his/her eyes red and itchy?
  • Does your child have dark circles under his/her eyes?

If your child has one or more of the above symptoms, it is a possible your child has allergies. Common allergens include food, medications, pet dander, mold, dust and pollen. Depending on the type of allergy, your child may experience respiratory symptoms, skin irritations or digestive problems. Nasal allergies can make your child more susceptible to ear and sinus infections and act as a trigger for asthma.

If parents cannot determine the source of the allergy, an allergist can perform a battery of skin tests to determine the offending allergens. It is important for parents to remember that one’s sensitivity to an allergen can change with time.

If your child does have an allergy, your physician will discuss how you can decrease your child’s exposure to the allergen. Boys Town Pediatrics offers the following tips to reduce allergens in your home:

Boys Town Pediatrics offers the following tips to reduce allergens in your home:

  • Vacuum your home at least once a week and consider purchasing a HEPA vacuum.
  • Wash bedding in hot water to remove dust and kill bacteria.
  • Replace furnace and air filters every 1-2 months during peak allergy seasons.
  • Have pets bathed regularly to keep pet dander at a minimum.
  • Wash blankets, stuffed animals and other toys regularly to remove dust and bacteria.

If your child seems to be suffering from cold symptoms that just do not seem to go away, contact your child’s physician.