Does My Child Have Allergies or a Cold?

shutterstock_77193160 Hayfever girl resizedWith the weather changing this time of year, kids may have a multitude of cold-like symptoms. Both allergies and a cold can cause a runny nose and sneezing, so how can you tell what is causing your child’s symptoms? Let’s take a look at other common symptoms to help you differentiate:


  • If your child has a fever, it is most likely a cold because allergies do not cause an elevated temperature.
  • A sore throat is more common with a cold.
  • A cold and its symptoms usually are worse during the first three to four days, but it usually runs its course in one to two weeks.


  • If your child has itching of the eyes, nose or skin, it is most likely allergies. A cold does not cause itching.
  • Allergies usually cause symptoms that last for longer than two weeks.
  • Allergy symptoms come in a predictable pattern. For example, if symptoms show up every spring or every summer, this typically indicates your child has allergies.

If you suspect your child has allergies, knowing what some of the common allergens are can help you identify what might be causing your child’s symptoms. Indoor allergens include:

  • Foods;
  • Dust and mold;
  • Animals, such as cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, gerbils, guinea pigs and others;
  • Clothing and toys, particularly ones made or trimmed with animal hair; and
  • Latex or bacterial enzymes in items such as rubber gloves and balloons, elastics in clothes and cleaning products.

Outdoor allergens include:

  • Pollen, particularly from March until mid-June when pollen counts are high;
  • Grass, which causes summer allergies from June until about August 15; and
  • Ragweed in the fall, which usually extends from mid-August until the first frost.

The best ways to relieve your child’s allergy symptoms are to control your child’s exposure to allergens and to use over the counter medications per your doctor’s instructions.

Controlling exposure

  1. Dust mites: Use pillow and mattress covers, stay away from down blankets or feather pillows, do not allow stuffed animals in the bed with your child and wash stuffed animals and linens regularly.
  2. Outdoor allergens: Use air conditioning as much as possible, bathe and change your children’s clothes after they play outside and keep windows closed at night.
  3. Mold: Avoid playing near moist piles of leaves and have moisture-rich areas of your home checked regularly for mold.


  1. Oral medications: There are many long-acting, non-drowsy medications that are available that are safe for children ages two and older. Talk to you doctor to see which one is right for your child.
  2. Nasal spray: Nasal saline spray is simply water with salt, which is a natural way to help loosen mucus and congestion from the nose. It also aids in helping kids blow their noses. Children can use it as many times a day and then practice blowing their noses.

If you are not sure if your child’s symptoms are caused by a cold or by allergies, it is best to speak to your doctor. There are different forms of allergy tests available, such as a blood test or skin-prick test. An allergist can provide more detailed information on what kinds of options are available.