The Difference Between Seasonal Allergies and a Cold | Health Eagle

The Difference Between Seasonal Allergies and a Cold

by Tom Seman MD FAAP May 2nd, 2011 | Pediatrician on Call
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My child has been sneezing more frequently and has had a stuffy nose for several days. How can I tell if it is seasonal allergies or a cold?

When considering the difference between seasonal allergies or a viral infection (common cold), one has to remember to look for other symptoms.

A viral infection will frequently cause a low grade fever or at least a feeling of being mildly ill. This may include generalized muscle aches, headaches, sore throat, stomachaches, and stuffy nose (often times tender to the touch initially with yellow thicker than average discharge that over the next several days turns clear). Most viral infections last 5-10 days with the symptoms worsening over the first 2-4 days and then improving. Also, one can frequently identify others in his/her social group that have similar symptoms.

Allergies, on the other hand, are frequently seasonal and last for 3-4 weeks, the duration of most pollen release for the bulk of plants. The symptoms may initially appear worse because the person has not had them since the last season, but are actually relatively similar from beginning to end. Symptoms usually are nasal congestion and drainage of thinner clear mucous (except perhaps in the morning when one has not cleared the secretions from his/her nose while they were sleeping), and a “scratchy” or itchy throat from the irritating allergen touching these areas as the post nasal drip touches similar tissue in the back of the throat. Headache can sometimes occur. Poor sleep may cause some of the feelings of being somewhat ill, but usually does not cause symptoms for very long.

As is obvious, many of the symptoms are similar; therefore, one has to remember to evaluate the symptoms for duration, worsening and then improving, and whether or not there is a consistent time during the year that they arrive. Year round allergies unfortunately are harder to evaluate and need a discussion with a primary care provider to help determine this.

Good luck,

Dr. Tom


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All health and medical information is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to replace the medical advice or treatment of your healthcare professional.