How can you tell if it’s a cold or allergies?

We have allergies in my family, but some of them are just coming out now that my kids have reached ages 4 and 6.  When they were babies, the food allergies were obvious, but the seasonal allergies that my husband has, started to appear in my daughter when she turned 5 in a big way, and this year, I am thinking my son might have them too.

It’s hard to tell if the sufferer has alleriges or a bad cold because when Spring comes in like a lion, the symptoms are the same.  There’s sneezing, stuffy noses, coughing, and itchy eyes.  Rubbing the eyes to relieve the itching could result in an eye infection or a sinus infection. My daughter even had the added side-effect of ashtma-like symptoms.  All of this adds up to a really bad March and April for some people.

How do you tell the difference?  it’s hard, but there are some clues:

What color is the nose?

Sounds funny, but if the nose is running, check out the color of what comes out.  If the mucous is green and yellow, that’s an infection which means it is most likely a cold.  If the mucous is clear, that looks more like an allergic side effect.

How long does it last?

Waiting for this answer isn’t always the most pleasant process, but a cold will usually pass after a week or 10 days (unless it is a bad cold, ie a sinus infection or worse).  Allergies, on the other hand, will last as long as the allergens are around-this could be 6 weeks or 2 months.

The cough and the chest

A chest cold and chest congestion is usually a sign of a bad cold and not allergies.  People cough and sneeze constantly with allergies, but it is usually due to the irritations and itching caused by the allergens, not due to an infection, which would be part of a cold.


People don’t tend to get fevers with allergies-if a fever is present, that’s a signal that there’s an infection in the body and something else beyond allergies is happening.

Treatment for allergies and colds is a personal choice, but we recommend you see your doctor or bring your child to a pediatric allergist for a professional evaluation and recommendation. In the meantime, there are natural and harmless steps you can take to reduce the allergens in your home:


If you are a bather or your child is, try the shower instead.  The shower will rinse off all of the pollen collected on the body and especially the hair throughout the day.  Taking a bath doesn’t remove as much of the allergens.

Keep a towel over the pillow and bed

When you make the beds in the morning, drape a towel over the pillow so that any pollen or dust that comes in through the windows or window cracks doesn’t wind up on the pillow.  Take the towel off at night before bed time.

A woman uses a Neti Pot

Neti pot

Have you seen these little teapots?  They look like they are part of a doll’s tea set but they are nasal cleansers.  These are great for bad colds too.  You should follow the directions, but basically, you use warm water to clean out your nasal passages and remove any mucous which could contain infection or allergens.  It takes some real getting used to but people swear by these.

Air conditioners/dehumidifiers, etc.

Especially in the summer when it is hot anyway, an air conditioner (make sure the filter is cleaned every year) can be helpful for someone with allergies rather than the fresh air.  It sounds so sad, but it is true.  An air conditioner also might help keep the home drier, which is another important step in allergy-proofing your home.  You want to prevent any mold from growing.  You should also keep a dehumidifier in your basement and during the Spring and Summer, empty it daily.  Some people swear by air purifiers, but personally I have not found these to work too well.

Wash up

You probably change your family’s bedding weekly any way, but all the more reason to wash everything-sheets, blankets, etc, every week.  This will eliminate dust, but also dust mites.  They can’t survive the high heat of a dryer.  Take this opportunity to wash your pillows too, or better yet, replace them every few years with new ones.  We also have started using pillow covers that go beneath the regular pillow case as an added layer between the head and the pillow. These should also be removed and washed weekly.

Some good websites to read while doing your research on allergies include:

Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America-here is the page on diagnosing kids with seasonal allergies

To find an allergist, a useful website is for the American Academy of Allergy, Ashtma and Immunology

Allergy Consumer Review-tons of products reviewed by people who actually use them. They have links to thinks like the pillow covers mentioned above.

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