Allergies and colds in children can be very difficult for a parent to distinguish. Allergies are an immune response. A child’s body identifies an agent foreign to the body as being harmful when it actually isn’t. A cold is a virus that infects a child’s upper respiratory tract. Symptoms of allergies and a cold can be very similar, and it can be difficult to differentiate between an allergic response or a cold virus in children. Identifying the difference can be especially difficult for parents as children are sometimes unable to explain their symptoms.
Allergies and colds usually both cause runny and stuffy noses, but the mucus in a child’s nose can help distinguish between allergies and colds. In allergies, the mucus is usually clear and watery, and in colds, the mucus is thicker and may be colored.
Itchy eyes are a symptom more prevalent in allergies. Itchy eyes can occasionally surface in colds, but it is a rare symptom. If your child is constantly itching their eyes or their eyes are watery, allergies are likely to be to blame.
Sneezing is another commonly shared symptom of both allergies and colds. Both allergies and colds can cause coughing as well, although coughing is a symptom more common in colds. Allergies tend to cause more sneezes in succession; a child may sneeze five to six times at once with allergies.
Allergies should not cause a fever, and a cold only does in minimal cases. When a fever is present in a cold, it is generally mild. If a child experiences a high fever, their illness may be something more serious.
Colds can cause aches, but allergies do not. Children experiencing muscle aches as one of their symptoms generally have a cold. Aches with colds are usually mild, so if a child’s aches are severe, especially combined with a high fever, the child may be suffering from the flu.
Colds can occur at anytime of the year while allergies are usually only present at certain times. If a child always experiences symptoms at a specific time of year, such as the beginning of Spring, there is a higher chance the symptoms are caused by allergies. Colds do not follow any set pattern.
Length of Illness
If a child’s symptoms last longer than two weeks, allergies are more likely to blame. A cold usually lasts less than two weeks. A bacterial infection could also cause long-lasting symptoms; if a child’s symptoms seem to worsen rather than stay the same (as they would with allergies), it may be best to have the child examined by a doctor.
Onset of Symptoms
Children’s symptoms of a cold can occur gradually over a few days, while allergy symptoms are more likely to occur all at once (directly after a child’s exposure to the allergen.) A child with a cold may first have a stuffy nose, which turns into sneezes and eventually leads to a cough. Allergy symptoms tend to present themselves together.
The difference between a cold and allergy symptoms in children can be very subtle. If allergies are determined to be the cause of your child’s symptoms, many allergy medications are available for young children to ease their symptoms and reduce the allergic reaction. According to Vincent Ianelli, M.D., cold medicines for children have been under debate in recent years with medical professionals and the FDA questioning their effectiveness and use in young children. Medicating for a cold may be undesirable for your child. Before beginning any medication, it is best to talk with your family doctor or pediatrician.
Learning About Allergies http://kidshealth.org/kid/asthma_basics/related/allergies.html#
Vincent Ianelli, M,D. Before You Buy Children’s Cold Medicine