Mother’s Day is a perfect occasion for a fragrant bouquet of flowers, unless those nearby are suffering from spring allergies. So how can we tell the difference between a seasonal allergy and a common cold? I’m itching to explain it to you.

Allergies affect 40-50 million Americans. Children with allergies will do a lot of sniffling and sneezing, mostly likely with a runny nose. They will often have watery itchy eyes with dark circles from rubbing them so much due to allergic irritation. Those with a cold are more likely to have a fever. Children with allergies will not.

Viruses cause colds, while allergies represent the body reacting to an environmental trigger. Triggers include pollen, mold, dust mites and animal dander. Foods and medications can be a cause, too. They can release certain chemicals, such as histamine, which cause allergic symptoms.

Colds are most common in the fall and winter. Allergies occur most often in the spring, summer and early autumn. Allergies can also run in families. Colds will last 7-10 days, while allergies can last for weeks or even months.

What should you do if you think your child has an allergy? The best treatment may be to identify the irritant and remove it as much as possible from the home environment. For example, air conditioning, or at least keeping windows closed, will reduce pollen counts in the home. It can also decrease the growth of molds, and even dust mites, which can trigger an allergic attack.

Allergic children are also particularly sensitive to pollutants in secondhand tobacco smoke and pet hairs. Keeping pets outside of your child’s room or play space, and cigarettes outside your home, can help your allergic child.

If you suspect your child has an allergy, talk to your child’s health care professional. They may want to refer your child to a pediatric allergist for further testing. They can also recommend a medication such as an antihistamine that can help treat the problem.

Hopefully, tips like these will put you in the nose, or in the know, about the difference between colds and allergies.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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