Does Your Child Have a Cold, or Is It Allergies?
Anita Schroff, MD
Your son is back from overnight camp with a bad cough. You assume it’s a cold, because he’s got a fever and says he caught it a few days before he came home. So you do all you can to help him fight it off.
A few days later, his fever is gone and he’s back in action. But he’s still coughing, and it goes on for weeks.
So why is this cold hanging on? Or is it something else, like allergies or asthma?
Your doctor can find out. Before you ask her though, try to notice these things to help her figure out what’s going on.
Is There a Fever?
Allergies can bring on sneezing, watery eyes, itchiness of the eyes, nose, and roof of the mouth, and sometimes a sore throat.
But “you don’t get fever with allergies,” even though they're often called “hay fever,” says Marc McMorris, MD. He's a pediatric allergist and immunologist with C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
“Usually, colds will come on gradually and you get runny nose, itchy eyes, and a low-grade fever (up to 101 F).”
What’s Up With His Buddies?
Your child’s friends could be a big clue. Have you noticed any of them sniffling lately? Kids tend to pass colds and other illnesses back and forth.
“Most parents know who their kids have been around. We know what’s going through the community,” McMorris says.
If other children aren't sick around your child, then you may have to think of other issues that might be causing his symptoms.
How Long Have the Symptoms Lasted?
Colds tend to go away in 2 weeks or less. Allergies stick around longer. “It’s not going to be 3 days and you’re done,” McMorris says.
Nasal allergies can hang around for much of the year, especially in the plant-growing months, if you’re allergic to some kind of pollen.
Your child could also be allergic to something that’s indoors, such as dust mites, pet dander, indoor mold, or cockroaches. Those are year-round triggers.