Colds and allergies are commonly seen in young children. Children are just as prone as adults to both conditions. If your child has a constant runny nose or is sneezing frequently you may wonder, is it a cold? Is it an allergy? How can you tell the difference? Knowing the difference is sometimes difficult since the symptoms are so similar but there are ways you can tell. Let’s take a brief look at the differences:
A cold, or upper respiratory infection, is a viral infection that inflames the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. According to Children’s Hospital in Boston, most young children have about six to ten colds per year and it’s not unlikely for children ina day care environment to have even more. A cold is usually characterized by the following symptoms:
– Runny nose: Initially the discharge is clear but as the cold progresses it can turn yellow, greenish or creamy in color, usually within 3-5 days.
– Productive sneezing: Unlike an allergy, the child will sneeze out thick mucous.
– Coughing: If the child has a chest cold, their cough will sound congested and loose.
– Fever: It is not uncommon for a child to run a fever as the body fights against the cold.
– Duration: Usually a cold improves within two weeks or less.
– Exposure: The child usually has associated with other children or family members who also have a cold.
An allergy or hay fever is quite different from a cold in many respects. According to Toddler Health, an allergy occurs as the result of an overreaction of the body’s immune system to a substance. Often the offending substance, known as an allergen, is pollen, pet dander, mold or dust although it might be caused by other substances as well. The body fights against the allergen by releasing a protein called histamine and the histamine produces the symptoms. Although allergy symptoms seem to heighten in the Spring and Fall seasons these can occur any time of the year. An allergy is characterized by the following symptoms:
– Sneezing: Sneezing is usually productive and the child has a clear nasal discharge. The child does a lot of sniffing.
– Watery eyes: Red, itching, watery eyes are more often seen with an allergy. The child usually rubs his eyes a lot and sometimes has dark circles under their eyes.
– Coughing: Usually an allergic cough is not productive as it is when the child has a cold. The child will have a dry cough instead.
– Clucking: The child makes a clucking sound from the back of his throat in an effort to relieve itching. The sound is produced by intermittently rubbing or sliding the tongue across the palate.
Treatment for colds and allergies
In order to be sure of what your child is dealing with, take them to a pediatrician. If allergies are suspected, the doctor may need to run a series of allergy tests to determine what is truly the causative allergen. The appropriate medications will be prescribed to control the symptoms, such as antihistamines and nasal steroids. On the other hand, a cold is usually treated with a decongestant and cough medicine. Antibiotics, which are given to fight against bacterial infections, are not generally prescribed for colds since colds are caused by viruses.
Children’s Memorial Hospital: “Ask the experts: cold vs. allergies”
What to Expect -Toddler Health: “Toddler allergies versus toddler colds”
The Baby Center: “Toddler allergies and asthma”
Children’s Hospital of Boston: “Upper Respiratory Infection (Common Cold)”