Runny, stuffy or itchy noses, sneezing, coughing, fatigue and headaches – all can be symptoms of both allergies and colds.
And when it’s a little one suffering, it can be hard to figure out the difference.
Dr. Michelle Lierl, a pediatric allergist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, says parents should closely look for the minor details.
She explains that children with allergies to leaf mold or outdoor fungal spores are more likely to have itchy noses, throats and eyes than those with a cold, who will generally just not feel well.
“They may run a low-grade fever, they may feel just kind of sick and achy and they have more sore throats,” she says. “And they’ll have nasal drainage and nasal congestion, but not so much itching of the nose and eyes.”
For seasonal allergies, Lierl says a daily antihistamine, such as Claritin, Allegra or Zyrtec, or a prescribed nasal steroid spray are the best options.
If it’s a cold, Tylenol or ibuprofen can help a child feel better. Lierl also recommends talking to a pediatrician about having children screened for environmental allergens.
She says taking allergy medicine throughout the season is important to prevent allergy symptoms – such as swelling and mucus build-up – from turning into something worse.
“That can stop up the sinuses and develop into a sinus infection, or it can stop up the middle ear and evolve into an episode of ear infection,” she explains. “So, keeping the nose open and less congested does help to prevent those secondary infections.”
When it comes to fall allergies, prevention is also important. Lierl notes that allergy season is tough for asthma sufferers, and November is one of the worst months.
“We have higher rates of admission to Children’s Hospital for asthma attacks than at any other time of the year,” she says. “So, it’s important for the parents of children with asthma to be especially careful that their children do not miss any doses of their regular asthma medication.”
She recommends keeping windows closed, changing air filters and having children wash their hands and faces after being outside.
And while it is fun, she says jumping into piles of leaves is off limits because it can trigger an allergy attack.