Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Health Issues

Is It Allergies or a Cold? How to Tell the Difference

It’s sometimes difficult to know whether the problem is hay fever or a common cold (upper respiratory infection). The diagnosis is often made when parents seek their pediatrician’s advice for a lingering "cold" that their child can’t shake. While symptoms of allergies and colds often overlap, there are a few telling differences. The tip-offs for hay fever are

  • A clear, watery nasal discharge
  • Itching of the eyes, ears, nose, or mouth
  • Spasmodic sneezing

Fever is never from an allergy; it almost always suggests an infection. Antibiotics will not help allergies or a common cold from a virus. Colds or allergies can sometimes lead to ear or sinus infections; when this happens, antibiotics can be helpful. With a cold, nasal secretions are often thicker than in allergy and can be discolored (as compared with the clear, watery discharge of allergies). The child who has a cold may have a sore throat and a cough, and the child’s temperature is sometimes slightly raised but not always. Itchiness is not usually a complaint with a cold, but it is the hallmark of an allergy problem. A plain old cold usually doesn’t last much more than several days before it starts to get better and go away; allergy symptoms can go on for weeks to months.

Last Updated
Guide to Your Childs Allergies and Asthma (Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Follow Us