Reviewed By: Reviewed by: Donna Hummell, M.D, associate professor of Pediatrics, Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy (Last Updated: October 18, 2012)
Children get runny noses, the occasional rash and sometimes puffy eyes. This time of year, with ragweed rampant in the air and children back to school with classmates and germs, it might be hard to pinpoint what they are suffering from.
How do you know if what they have is a cold? Or could it be allergies?
Similar symptoms in colds can also occur with various allergens.
Allergies may begin in the very young, but the inciting trigger may vary depending upon a child's age. Food allergies are more common in young infants, toddlers.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that about 2 million (8 percent) children have food allergies. Some of the most common food allergens include milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, wheat and soy.
Symptoms can include hives, red itchy skin, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and angioedema or swelling. On occasion, in addition to these prominent symptoms, there may be sneezing, stuffy nose or itchy and teary eyes. The nose and eye symptoms do not usually occur without the prominent symptoms mentioned.
Children often outgrow the food allergen, which is sometimes replaced with an environmental irritant, such as pollen, dust, pets, mold, ragweed, etc.
“Inhalant allergies usually show up around ages 2 and older,” said Donna Hummell, M.D., associate professor of Pediatric, Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy.
“This consists of runny nose, sneezing, nasal drainage, itchy nose and eyes, and may improve with an over the counter antihistamine, such as Benadryl, loratadine or cetirizine. Lack of response to either loratadine or cetirizine is usually fairly reliable evidence that the symptoms are NOT from allergy but instead may be from a cold virus.”
Also, Hummell said, allergy symptoms can last six to eight weeks, whereas a cold typically lasts about two weeks. In addition, if a fever is present, suspect a cold virus infection and not allergy.
Approximately 20 percent of school-age children have outdoor allergies, she noted.
“We think of dust mites and animal danders (cat and dog) as year-round allergens, and then pollens such as tree pollen (spring), grass pollen (late spring and summer) and weed pollens (late summer and fall) as the major allergens,” Hummell said. “Of course, in a different climate, grass and weeds may pollinate year-round.
When in doubt, parents should visit their pediatricians to determine the cause of the child’s symptoms.
For those who suffer from outdoor irritants, Hummell offers the following tips to minimize exposure to allergens.
Additional sites rich with information and resources on a variety of health conditions and tips include:
© 2013 Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt