The recent summer-like warm weather has brought with it unseasonably high pollen counts, triggering an early allergy season for many residents. Add that to the fact that and you have a lot of people walking around with the sniffles.
But how do you tell if your or your child's symptoms are caused by a cold or allergies?
To help, Dr. Molly O'Shea of in Troy offers the following symptoms to consider:
- Fever. If your child has a fever above 100.5 degrees, this is most likely an illness. Allergies shouldn't cause fever; illness can.
- Sneezing. If sneezing occurs once or twice it could be due to either allergies or a cold, but if the sneezing is persistent, and if it comes in groups of four or more sneezes at time, allergies are more likely to be the cause.
- Cough. This symptom won't help differentiate between allergy and illness. Drainage from either allergy or illness will drip down the back of the throat and cause a cough.
- Itchy eyes or nose. These symptoms are almost always due to allergies. Illnesses are irritating, but don't cause histamine release like allergies do, and these histamines cause swelling of the tissues in the nose and even the pink inner lining of the eyelid and causes itching.
- Clear runny nose. This could be either allergy or illness. At the start of an illness, the snot is usually clear, but by day five or so is yellow or green in color. If you see this progression, chances are your child has an illness rather than allergies.
- Fatigue. Allergies cause tremendous fatigue. Needing a lot of extra sleep is common when allergies are in full swing, but kids who are sick with an illness can often be sleepier than normal, too. On balance, allergies are more likely to cause fatigue that lasts more than four days.
- Headache. Allergies are more likely to cause headache than illness. Unless your child has had symptoms for more than 10 days, sinusitis isn't on the list of possible causes for headache, but allergies will often cause headache in the first several days of symptoms.
"If your child is 3 or older, most clear runny noses with cough and itchy eyes are allergy related," O'Shea said. "Kids under 3 are not nearly as likely to have environmental allergies, and kids under 1 cannot have allergy symptoms to anything other than food. If your child has a fever, infection is high on the list."
She also advises talking with your health care provider if you suspect your child has allergies, as there are several over-the-counter medications available to abate allergy symptoms, including Claritin, Zyrtec and Benadryl.
"If these antihistamines give relief, allergies are likely the cause, and if these simple medicines control the symptoms, there is no need to investigate further," O'Shea said. "If your child remains symptomatic despite these treatments, heading to the doctor makes sense."