Spring is here! The weather is warming up and flu season is almost over! Unfortunately, as the snow starts to melt and the flowers start to bloom, noses start to run and eyes begin to itch. Although flu season is almost behind us, us pediatricians are still treating cold symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes, and painful throats. So how do we know the difference? How do we know if the symptoms our child is experiencing is from a common cold or seasonal allergies? Even as a pediatrician, it can sometimes be difficult to answer that question. Unfortunately, colds and seasonal allergies share a lot of the the same symptoms. However, there are some important differentiating features that help us with a diagnosis.
Does your child have a fever? If your child is having a fever, chances are he or she is suffering from an upper respiratory infection. Many times a common cold will be associated with a low grade fever, where as allergies never result in a fever.
How long has your child had symptoms? The symptoms from a common cold typically last 10 to 14 days. If your child is having persistent congestion or nighttime cough for more than two weeks, it is important to have him or her evaluated by his pediatrician.
Is your child suffering from itchiness? The common cold and allergies can both cause symptoms involving the throat and eyes. However, allergies typically cause itchiness, whereas colds can cause watery eyes and painful throats.
How quickly did the symptoms start? When your child is exposed to an allergen, it can trigger symptoms quickly. Your child may be outside playing, and they suddenly develop a runny nose and watery eyes. The symptoms of a cold tend to occur more gradually. One day your child is complaining of sore throat and fatigue, and over the next few days, they start to develop runny nose and cough.
What time of year is it? Although not always reliable, the time of year can be helpful in differentiating between a cold and allergies. You can get a cold year-round, but most people consider the fall and winter months to be cold season. Spring is the season for allergies. The reason for the spike in allergy flare-ups in spring is due to the blooming trees, plants and flowers. Pollen and other products of nature get carried by the wind and end up in our nose, eyes, and lungs. When this happens, our immune system reacts to the foreign elements and releases histamine. Histamine causes swelling and mucus production in the nose, redness and tearing in the eyes, and itching.
Hope this helps you with your journey!