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Is it Allergies or a Cold?

Published on May 07, 2024

It’s the time of year in the Central Valley when children can have a bit of a cough or stuffy and runny noses. Many children have environmental allergies, especially those that get worse with seasonal changes such as springtime, but how can you tell if your child just has allergies, or is sick with a cold? While there are many overlapping symptoms, there are some key differences as well.

How to Spot Allergies 

Allergies are the body’s reaction to things in the environment. This can be due to a number of factors including pollen, pet dander or dust, which are known as triggers. Of course, different people are allergic to different things. Oftentimes, this can manifest as congestion and a runny nose. Some people may also have mucous in their throat or a cough as well.

Since these reactions can occur whenever someone is exposed to the trigger, people will often have them over a long period of time. Mild to moderate allergies can often be treated with over-the-counter allergy medications. Some widely used allergy medications that are safe for kids include Loratidine (Claritin) or Cetirizine (Zyrtec). Fluticasone nose spray (Flonase) also works well. For severe allergies, your child may benefit from seeing an Allergist.

How to Spot a Cold 

For a cold, or a viral upper respiratory tract infection in medical terms, your child will often have other symptoms aside from a runny nose, congestion, and cough. They may also have fevers, which is never due to allergies. Additionally, they will often be fatigued and have a decreased appetite. A virus can also affect other areas of the body, so your child may also exhibit diarrhea or vomiting.

Most mild colds can be handled well at home. Ensure your child drinks a lot of fluids, such as water or Pedialyte, and be sure they get plenty of rest. Tylenol or ibuprofen can be given if your child has a fever or body aches. Most children will be able to get over their colds in less than a week, but some symptoms such as a mild cough, can linger for up to a few weeks.

While most children get better quickly, sometimes colds can lead to bacterial infections. If a fever persists for a week or more, it could mean there is another, more serious infection going on, such as ear infections, sinusitis or pneumonia. If your child's fever lasts, contact your pediatrician for further assessment. 

While it may be tricky to identify, knowing these key differences will help you, and your child, conquer the allergy season together. To learn more about allergies in children, visit our allergy resource page to view other environmental triggers that can be found throughout the year in the Valley.


About the Authors

Hailey Nelson, MD, FAAP, IBCLC is a complex care pediatrician at Valley Children’s Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center. Dr. Nelson enjoys working with children of all ages and abilities and is especially passionate about providing the best possible care to medically fragile children and their families. As the ambassador for Safe Kids Central California, she is a vocal advocate for children’s wellness and regularly appears in news media discussing pediatric healthcare. She is also a licensed breastfeeding consultant, certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants to support nursing mothers and their babies. Learn more about Dr. Nelson here. 

Dr. Christopher Galley is a California native who comes to Valley Children's from Loma Linda University School of Medicine and is in his third year of Postgraduate Residency. Dr. Galley is an advocate for providing healthcare and resources to underserved communities and believes in a philosophy of viewing healthcare as a whole and building relationships with his patients and families. Learn more about Dr. Galley here.