Your child seems to have endless colds. They are constantly sneezing and coughing, or maybe they just complain about feeling tired and not themselves, with itchy eyes and a slightly runny nose. Maybe they even wheeze a bit, but then it seems to go away.
It’s time to look into whether or not they have allergies.
“Unfortunately, there is a good bit of crossover between cold-like symptoms and allergic symptoms,” says Dr. Lindsey Stoltz Steadman, a board-certified allergist at Charleston Allergy & Asthma. Luckily, there are a few ways to tell the difference — and if you’re at all concerned about allergies, it’s always a good idea to pay a visit to a board-certified allergist.
So, how do I know it’s not just a cold or infection?
With allergies, kids will usually experience some or all of the following symptoms: a stuffy and runny nose; sneezing; itchy, watery, red eyes; ear fullness and pressure; and post-nasal drainage down the back of the throat. (It can be hard for kids to communicate about post-nasal drip, but lots of throat-clearing can be a sign.)
“We notice those symptoms in isolation,” Dr. Stoltz Steadman says. “So if they exist with a fever, they won’t be caused by allergies. Things like a cold, viral illness, respiratory infections — those cause fevers. Without an associated fever, muscle aches or body aches these symptoms will likely point more toward allergy.”
Also, pay attention to when the symptoms are popping up. If you're noticing them sporadically throughout the day or year, it’s more likely to be allergies than a cold. It is very common for children to be allergic to indoor allergens like pet dander and dust mites so symptoms may come and go.
Another big sign is if the symptoms are happening seasonally. Spring and fall are the primary culprits, but summer is big, too, especially in South Carolina, when summer plants are flowering.
“Another thing that can go hand in hand with allergies are other diagnoses, like asthma,” Dr. Stoltz Steadman says. “Between 75 and 80% of kids with asthma also have allergies. It's important to make sure BOTH things are being addressed and controlled.”
Other signs to look out for
There are a few other physical symptoms that may indicate your kid has allergies.
“They can get dark circles under their eyes, which are called allergic shiners,” Dr. Stoltz Steadman says. “Kids seem to be more prone to get those than adults.”
Some kids may also get a horizontal crease above their nose, called an allergic salute, that's caused by constant itching and rubbing.
What are the next steps?
“Kids who have undiagnosed or poorly controlled allergies feel sick a lot, so they’re just not feeling like themselves. That can cause difficulty paying attention and concentration on their homework and at school and can cause difficulty sleeping at night because they have trouble breathing or drainage, causing them to cough,” Dr. Stoltz Steadman says.
To get your child feeling better, the first step is to visit a board-certified allergist, who will test him and determine exactly what he’s allergic to. If your child is around age five or older, you may consider allergy shots. Also known as immunotherapy, it’s an individualized treatment and the closest thing to a lifelong cure.
Your allergist can also help you determine if medications like antihistamines, eye drops, or nasal sprays can help your child.
Remember that if one or both parents have allergies, a child is at an increased risk of developing allergies—but just because you're allergic to a specific type of pollen doesn't mean your child will be, too. That's why it's always important to get tested so your child will have an individualized treatment plan.
Need guidance in treating your children’s allergies? Reach out to Charleston Allergy & Asthma for an appointment. Their board-certified doctors have been providing allergy and asthma care in the Lowcountry for over 30 years. They have locations in Mount Pleasant, Summerville, and West Ashley. For more information, call (843) 881-2030 or visit them online.