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Does Your Child Have a Cold, or Is it Allergies?

It may not be easy to tell what's making your child sneeze and cough.

Colds continued...

Because colds are caused by viruses, they can't be cured with medication. Over-the-counter cold remedies may help ease your child's symptoms and discomfort, but if you're uncomfortable giving drugs to your young child, there are medication-free ways to soothe her.

“Ensure hydration by having your child drink lots of fluids,” Chiu says. “And parents can use saline nasal sprays and suction.”

A recent study of 401 children, published in the Archives of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, found that using a saline nasal rinse several times per day helped improve nasal symptoms in the common cold in children and possibly reduced the risk of a relapse.


If your child seems to get a cold every April, when everything in your neighborhood starts blooming, it's likely that he has seasonal allergies.

“A mother can do a pretty good job on her own of making a quick distinction,” Tringale says. “If it happens every spring with clear nasal discharge and no fever, it's most likely allergies.”

There's one time of year when an annual cold may actually be a cold, though, says Chiu: Back-to-school time in September.

“At the start of school season, everyone always seems to get an upper respiratory infection, with all the exposures from classmates,” she says, “so it may be hard to distinguish between viral cold and fall allergy.”

The younger your child, the less likely she is to have a seasonal environmental allergy.

“No one is born with an allergy,” says Johnson, who notes that most children under age 3 don't have allergies yet. “It takes 2 to 3 seasons, even in a highly allergic person, to develop the immunologic response [to pollen, which causes allergic reactions].”

Allergies tend to run in families, so a child with a family history of allergies whose parents notice that she gets sneezy every May can ask the pediatrician to recommend an allergist, Chiu says. “The best, most cost-effective way [to be diagnosed] is to see an allergist for allergy skin testing, [when an allergen is placed onto the child's skin to check for a reaction],” she says.

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