Is It A Cold or Allergies? Help for Families on the Go.

Is that sniffle a cold or allergies??
So your child has a runny nose, congestion and maybe a cough. Is it a cold or allergies? The common cold is caused by viruses and our immune systems attempts to fight the infection leads to many of the symptoms we see like fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat, etc. Allergies are caused by an overactive immune response to things that are harmless (like pollens, animal dander, dust mites). The symptoms can seem very similar to the common cold, but a few important distinctions are present. Allergies do not cause body aches or fever & usually the runny nose associated w/ allergies is clear. A common cold will usually resolve within 14 days whereas allergy symptoms seem to be persistent, recurrent and often follow a seasonal pattern.
If you suspect your child might have allergies, what’s the first thing you should do? Ask yourself a few questions to help distinguish between signs/symptoms of allergies and the common cold:
When your child gets a cold does it seem like it takes much longer for him/her to ‘shake it’ than other kids? Does the cough linger for weeks?
Does your child sneeze or have itchy/watery eyes frequently?
Does your child always have dark circles under their eyes- even when well rested (‘allergic shiners’)
Is your child often rubbing or itching their nose? (allergic salute)
Does anyone in your family have allergies because allergies are inherited, to some degree
Allergic rhinitis (medical term for hay fever) affects 20% population. It can begin at any age, but the majority of patients have their onset of symptoms prior to the age of 10yo. These symptoms can cause much discomfort with children missing school. Many people suffer with poor sleep patterns due to their allergies which then affects their school performance & behavior. Symptoms can be seasonal (related to pollen), perennial (related to allergens you are exposed to everyday like animal dander or dust mites) or a combination of both. In Florida, some tree, grass or weed is pollinating throughout much of the year.
It is reasonable to try OTC medications in your children that are at least 6mo old. Try non-sedating anti-histamines like loratadine or Benadryl to help with itchy, runny or sneezy symptoms.
An allergist can help identify if your child’s symptoms truly are caused by allergies. Skin prick testing is performed in the office- this test uses small plastic ‘toothpicks’ to introduce a tiny amount of the allergen into the top layer of your child’s skin – usually done on the back. Skin testing is the easiest, most sensitive and generally least expensive way of making the diagnosis. Another advantage is that results are available immediately. In rare cases, it also may be necessary to do a special allergy blood test for specific allergens.
An allergist will advise you on ways to improve symptoms by identifying and avoiding what you are allergic to. They can prescribe medications to you’re your child rapid relief from their symptoms. Your child may need immunotherapy (medical term for allergy shots). Allergen immunotherapy is the only FDA approved treatment for allergies that can offer long-term benefits for your child’s symptoms. This therapy changes the way a person’s immune system deals with allergens in a beneficial way, becoming less reactive to them over time.
Dr. Mona Mangat MD is board certified in allergy/immunology, pediatrics & internal medicine. She graduated from Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine (NEOUCOM) 6 year combined BS/MD program. Dr. Mangat opened Bay Area Allergy & Asthma in 2007. She lives in St. Petersburg with her 4 children & husband.