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Common cold or allergy? How to tell the difference

Is your child’s sniffles a sign of a common cold or an allergy? Read on to find out how to tell the difference.

Because a common cold and an allergy both share similar symptoms it can sometimes be tricky knowing which one your child has. We asked expert allergist, Dr Adrian Morris to explain the main differences between the two.

What is a cold?

Also known as an upper respiratory tract infection, the common cold is often caused by a virus and is one of the main reasons behind most GP visits. In fact, studies have shown that children are sick with a cold at least six to 10 times a year. This is due to an immature immune system, seasonal changes and the fact that children don’t always practise good hygiene habits such as hand washing or coughing and sneezing with their hands in front of their mouths.

6 Common cold signs and symptoms

  1. A sore throat
  2. A low to moderate fever
  3. Coughing that starts after a postnasal drip
  4. Thick green or yellow mucus (the classic sign of an infection)
  5. Body aches and pains including headaches
  6. A reduced appetite

Good to know: Symptoms of a cold appear suddenly and last for around seven to 10 days.

What to do if your child has a cold

According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine faculty, although there’s no specific cure for the common cold, you can ease your child’s symptoms and help him feel better by ensuring he stays hydrated, let him gargle with salt water as it’s a powerful antiseptic solution and keep the air in his room moist with a humidifier as the cold virus spreads more easily in cold, dry conditions.

What is an allergy?

An allergy normally arises by the time your child is six years old and can flare up at specific times of the year.  If a child is allergic to something, his immune system will overreact to a substance in the environment, such as pollen or grass. As a result, he’ll start sneezing or coughing and have a runny nose or start itching as soon he spends time outdoors. If your child reacts to indoor allergies such as dog or cat hair, dust mites or mould, he might have more congestion and less of a runny nose.

A word on food allergies

Children can also be sensitive to certain foods such as cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, wheat and soya. “In the past, it was common for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to avoid these foods as long as possible,” says Dr Morris. However, new studies have shown that exposing your little one to small amounts of these foods, through breast milk, for example, might help to induce a tolerance to them later on, he says.

6 Allergy signs and symptoms

  1. A runny nose
  2. Inflammation in the throat
  3. Swollen, itchy or red eyes
  4. Persistent sneezing
  5. Clear mucus
  6. Skin irritations including eczema

Good to know: Symptoms of an allergy flare-up seasonally and last for more than a week.

What to do if you think your child has an allergy

If you suspect your child might have a food allergy or be reacting to something in the environment, speak to your paediatrician or see an allergist who can perform a skin prick test or take a blood sample, from when your child is four months old.

 

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