Experts at Cincinnati Children's Offer Tips on How to Tell the Difference

One of the problems parents may have during the fall is figuring out whether their child’s sneezing is due to a cold or allergies. 

“Runny, stuffy or itchy noses, sneezing, coughing, fatigue, and headaches can all be symptoms of both allergies and colds, but when parents pay close attention to minor details they will be able to tell the difference,” says Michelle Lierl, MD, a pediatric allergist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“Children who have springtime or fall allergies have much more itching of their noses; they often have fits of sneezing and usually rub their noses in an upward motion.  They also complain about an itchy, scratchy throat or itchy eyes, whereas with a cold, they don’t,” she says.  

Dr. Lierl also says that nasal discharge for allergy patients is usually clear and has the consistency of watery mucus, while patients who have colds usually have yellowish mucus discharge.

A blood test called the Immunocap,or RAST, can screen for allergy to specific foods or airborne allergens.  RAST can be ordered by any doctor, says Dr. Lierl, but it is important that you talk with your doctor first. Children who experience seasonal allergy symptoms should be tested for environmental allergens present during the current season  - not for food allergies or allergens present during seasons when the child has had no symptoms. The results of the RAST test are back after three to five days; allergists can perform allergy skin testing in one day in the doctor’s office.

If you find that your child has allergies, Dr. Lierl suggests the following tips to combat symptoms:

  • Windows should be kept closed during periods of very high pollen and fungal spore levels.   
  • Change air conditioner filters every month. 
  • Change children’s clothing when they come inside from the outdoors. Clothes should also be washed thoroughly to rid them of all of the outdoor pollutants. 
  • Children should wash their face, hands and hair after being outside.  
  • Flush the child’s eyes and nose with a non-prescription saline solution when the child has been outside to remove the pollen and fungal spores. 
  • Minimize early morning outdoor activity since pollen counts are higher in the morning.    
  • Keep vehicle windows closed while traveling with an allergic child in the car to keep allergens out.   
  • Most important, make sure children take their allergy medicine daily during the pollen season.   
For more information about fall allergies, log on to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s web site.