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Does My Child have a Cold or Allergies? Ask These Three Questions.

Autumn brings cool weather and colorful leaves. But it also brings cold season! It can be hard to know if your child’s sniffles are from allergies or from a cold. 

A cold is caused by common viruses that are easy to catch. They usually go away on their own with comfort care. Allergies are our immune system reacting to the changing environment around us, such as seasonal pollens, grasses, and weeds. 

Asking yourself these three questions can help your child get the care and support they need. 

  1. What are the symptoms? 

Symptoms from a cold and from allergies often overlap. Both can cause sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, and watery eyes. But there are some symptoms that can help warn parents that a child’s symptoms are from a cold and not just allergies. 

  1. Fever: A cold usually presents with a low-grade to mild fever (100.4 - 102.9F) that responds well to fever-reducing meds. Allergies will not cause a fever.
  1. Crusty eyes: Though allergies can cause eye drainage, crusty or thick eye drainage is more typically caused by a virus. 
  1. Thick nasal drainage: Colds and other infections will often cause drainage to get thick or change colors (yellow, green, yuck!). Nasal drainage from allergies are typically more watery and clear. Importantly, yellow/green nasal drainage can be caused by viruses and do not always indicate a need for antibiotics.

  1. How long have the symptoms lasted?

The common cold will last anywhere from a few days to two weeks. If your child’s symptoms stick around longer, they are probably from allergies. 

Note that “seasonal” allergies can affect your child throughout the year. Pollen allergies are more common in Spring and Fall when plants are growing. Indoor allergies (from dust, mold, or pets) can last all year long. 

  1. Is there an obvious trigger for the symptoms? 

Allergies sometimes present only in response to a known exposure. If your child feels fine inside the house but starts sneezing after spending time outside, allergies to pollen could be the cause. If symptoms appear only while inside the house, then it may be time to think about the home environment. Do you have any pets? Does anyone smoke in the home? Do you use any scented cleaning products or air fresheners? In contrast, symptoms from a cold persist regardless of the environment, indoors or out. 

Imagine Pediatrics is here to improve the health and lives of children with medical complexity or special health care needs. We provide virtual health care 24/7. So you can get support for your child any time without leaving your home. We do not replace your child’s doctors. We team up with them to give your child medical, behavioral, and social support whenever they need it. Learn more about us at or call us 833-208-7770.

Unlimited 24/7 access to your care team via messaging, phone call, or video visit using our mobile app.

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