Is It a Cold or Allergies?
A pediatrician on how to tell the difference
Ok let's figure it out - Is it allergies or is it a cold?
Both allergies and colds share a lot of similar symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Feeling tired
- Feeling achy
Honestly, it can be hard even for us to tell the difference when we examine kids.
HOWEVER, you don't get a fever with allergies. If you have a little fever (or a big fever), that's most likely a cold.
ALSO, "itchiness" in general of nose and eyes, makes me think more allergies than cold.
AND, the time is important - Did it come on really quickly? That's most likely a cold. Has it been going on for months with a slow onset? Most likely allergies.
Both allergies and colds can make you more susceptible to other problems like ear infections and sinus infections. That's why we say if your symptoms are lasting longer than 2 weeks, come in and see us so we can help.
"How do I know what to do?" Well, that depends on a lot of things.
Is your child under age 1? If so - this is more likely a cold than allergies (a child has to be alive longer than a year to develop allergies to their environment). Elevate the head of their crib. Stick a blanket under the mattress. Would you want to lay flat on your back with a bad cold? Suck out all that snot with a Nose Frida (dont knock it til you try it). Use saline drops. Tylenol (or ibuprofen if over 6 months) for the headaches and throat pain. Run a hot shower and sit in a steamy bathroom for a bit. And lots of lovins. There ain't much you can do for the tiny ones. They just have to push through it.
If they're over age 1 and they have what seems to be a cold, try some honey along with all of the above. It's been proven to help just as much as medication. There are some over-the-counter medications that have honey in them too. I wouldn't try cold medicines until they're at least 4. Studies don't even show that they help much.
If it's allergies - you have lots of over the counter options like Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, and Allegra. Some nose sprays are also very helpful and we can prescribe those in the office. And there is a prescription medication called montelukast that I find can help some kids.
Also, a wise allergist once told me that if you rinse out your kid's nostrils when they come indoors, it helps a lot (it washes away all the allergens/pollens clinging to the hairs in the nose and really helps symptoms go away faster). You could also try nasal saline spray here and just have them hold their head over the sink.
Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D.
Dr. Diane Arnaout joined the Cook Children's Willow Park practice in 2011. You can stay connected with Dr. Arnaout and the Willow Park practice on Facebook. Dr. Arnaout was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She attended college at Texas A&M University and medical school at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. She did her pediatric internship and residency at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital and M.D. Anderson at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, TX where she served as a leader on the medical education committees. She is a board-certified pediatrician. Click to learn more.