Learn the difference between a common cold and allergies, and what the signs of a food allergy looks like.

Does my child have food or nasal allergies?

Image Kid Sneezing Allergies Image Kid Sneezing Allergies Image Kid Sneezing Allergies

Many people wonder if their child has allergies. In Tidewater, it seems that lots of people do. 

Allergies are really a collection of problems that physicians label "atopic disease." Allergies - or atopy - has many manifestations. Categories of atopic disease fall into:

  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Asthma
  • Atopic dermatitis or eczema
  • Allergic conjunctivitis
  • Food allergies  

What is allergic rhinitis? For most people it is sneezing, stuffiness, runny nose and mild cough. For some people it is seasonal - spring and fall are big times of symptoms. For other people, it is more year-round like a pet allergy, dust mite allergy or a mold allergy.  

For a parent it can be hard to separate allergic rhinitis from "the eight million colds we get in the first year of day care!" It is even sometimes hard for me to know that as well. It is helpful to know what a common cold looks like.

What does a common cold look like?  It often begins with sneezing, stuffiness and a runny nose for a few days.  This is sometimes accompanied by a mild fever and a sore throat. The mucous is often clear to begin with during this time. On the third to fourth day, Mother Nature sends infection fighting cells to the nose. The mucous gets thicker and becomes cloudy to yellow colored. It drains down the back of the throat and coughing becomes a prominent symptom. This stage lasts 3-4 days.  Then for most colds, the mucous starts to dry up with decreasing symptoms between 7-10 days from the start of the cold. If your child's nasal drainage follows this pattern, it is probably a viral cold. 

How about allergies? If your child consistently has a runny nose and occasional cough, it may be allergies. If your child snores a lot and is constantly bothered by congestion, it is worth discussing with your pediatrician.  

What is asthma? Asthma has a range of symptoms. It may be as mild as a cough that happens mostly with running around, laughing or crying. If you find yourself not wanting your child to run because you know it will set off a coughing fit, it could be asthma. Another symptom could be chronic coughing especially in the middle of the night which could lead to gagging. It might be a very tight, frequent cough that occurs during a cold, but lasts longer than a cold usually does. Finally, it may be wheezing that causes breathing difficulties and may need immediate care.   

Atopic dermatitis vs. eczema: Eczema is the word that is generally used for a few patches of red, dry, itchy skin that often responds to some moisturizer. It is often used in babies as they may have issues during the first year of life but not necessarily after that.  Atopic dermatitis is used when skin problems are more persistent, require medication and can often be life-long. Overall, eczema and atopic dermatitis can be used interchangeably.  

What is allergic conjunctivitis?  Conjunctivitis is the doctor term for a red inflamed eye. If you child gets red, teary eyes that appear itchy in the spring and fall - this might be the diagnosis. It is important to recognize because, although it may need treatment for relief, it is not contagious. 

How do I know if they have a food allergy? Although many people may have intolerance to various foods; most allergists would call hives along with breathing problems or vomiting after eating particular foods food allergies. Common food triggers include nuts, peanuts, eggs, dairy and shellfish. Often an allergist will be consulted to manage these problems.  

Are allergies genetic? Atopy is a genetic trait. Family history will often be a clue about your child's allergies. But sometimes it’s not called allergies.  Possible clues to your family having atopic disease are: family members who needed ear tubes, tonsillectomies or adenoidectomies; a family member who gets bronchitis with every cold;  family members who only can use certain soaps or detergents, snoring at night or family members who develop pneumonia easily.   

Overall, many children have frequent runny noses and dry skin. If they are happy, not bothered by these symptoms and growing and developing well; this is not of much concern. However, you should speak to your pediatrician if your  child who feels badly due to frequent coughing, prolonged nasal drainage, snoring, itchy nose or itchy skin.