Is it allergies or a cold?

The weather is warmer, the trees are greener, but your little one is still sniffling from that endless winter cold bug. Or could all those sniffles be the onset of seasonal allergies?

Toddlers and preschoolers usually haven’t been exposed to enough springtime pollen to develop allergies yet, according to Dr. Rachel Story, an attending physician in the Allergy and Immunology Department at Children’s Memorial Hospital.

allgeriesStory says it can be hard to tell whether a child’s congestion is from a common cold or allergies. The key, she says, is to wait.

By the time they reach 5 or 6, however, children’s runny noses could be a reaction to spring allergens.

“Colds usually last 14 days, but allergies last much longer,” she says. “That’s true especially in the spring, when allergens are outdoor molds, tree pollen and grass pollen that have a longer season.”

Parents can also watch to see if children frequently itch their eyes, rub their noses or have dark circles under their eyes.

If the symptoms are mild, she says, parents can buy over-the-counter antihistamines such as Claritin or Zyrtec (or the generic versions), which are less likely to have sedative effects on kids.

If medications don’t seem to help, Story advises taking children to their pediatrician or an allergist. Serious allergies, when left untreated, can impact a child’s school work or result in chronic sinus infections, she says.

Parents can also limit exposure to pollen by:

  • n Keeping children inside between 5 and 10 a.m., when pollen counts are the highest.
  • n Close windows in the home and car to keep pollen from collecting.
  • n Use a HEPA filter.
  • n Have children take a bath immediately after playing outside.
  • n Visit to track pollen levels.
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