Your little one is sniffling and sneezing. Is it a cold or allergies? In spring, it's not easy to tell. Could be a late winter cold. Could be an early spring allergy. Allergies are quite common in young children but are often overlooked by parents and caregivers because little ones also come down with so many common colds. Expert estimate that 35 million Americans suffer from allergies to airborne pollen -- the condition commonly known as hay fever. And children whose parents have allergies are much more likely to have them, even if it's just one parent who suffers.
So what do you do when you hear that sneeze? First, see if you can make the call between cold and allergy. The distinction is important because colds and allergies call for different treatments and responses. How can you tell the difference? The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) offers these guidelines for deciphering the springtime sniffles:
- In addition to nasal symptoms, child also complains of fever or aches and pains
- Symptoms begin faintly and then escalate over a few days
- Symptoms clear up in several days to a week
- Symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, and watery/itchy eyes
- Symptoms begin quickly
- Symptoms can linger all season -- even year-round
Colds should be treated with rest, a bit of TLC, and frequent hand washing by family members to curtail the spread of germs. But allergies call for a different response.
The medications used to treat allergies are decongestants, antihistamines, and steroids. If your child's symptoms are relatively mild, you may consider using over-the-counter forms of allergy relief. (Read the label to make sure it's appropriate for children.) Be aware that antihistamines may cause drowsiness and can affect a child's participation in playgroups or school.
If over-the-counter remedies aren't providing adequate relief, consult your child's doctor. There are many nonsedating antihistamines available -- most still require a prescription. Also, topical steroids, found in nasal sprays such as Flonase and Nasonex, are a possible treatment option.
Some allergies do not improve even with these methods. At that point, your child's doctor may recommend an allergy specialist for skin testing to isolate the specific allergens and possibly begin immunotherapy injections.
You can help out at home, too. For a child with seasonal allergies, experts offer these tips:
- Keep the windows in your car and home closed, especially on days when forecasts call for medium or high pollen levels.
- Limit outdoor activity in the early morning, when springtime pollen counts are generally highest.
- Set bath time just before bedtime. That may help wash off some pollen that could otherwise make for a sniffly night.
- Administer any allergy medications before your child's allergy season begins and continue them on a daily basis throughout the season.
The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.