Melissa Arca: Is it allergies or a cold?

Sore throats, runny noses and goopy eyes abound now in classrooms and pediatric offices everywhere.

And now, more than ever, with fall waiting in the wings … many parents find themselves asking: Is this a cold or does my child have seasonal allergies?

Admittedly, it can be hard to tell at first. For pediatricians and parents alike. Sometimes, time is simply our best clue. But if you’re looking for quick ways to muddle through your child’s symptoms for an answer (and some relief), see these hints courtesy of

(Disclosure: I receive compensation for my participation in the Consumer Healthcare Products Association educational foundation’s OTC Safety Ambassador program. However, the content and opinions in this post are my own.)

Your child might have a cold

if ...

1. She has a gradual onset of sore throat, low-grade fever, congestion, cough, and runny nose.

2. His nasal congestion turns from clear to yellow and/or green within a few days. (Note: this does not mean he has a bacterial or sinus infection. Plenty of colds can produce gross nasal discharge.)

3. Her symptoms start getting better after 5-7 days and are just about completely gone by day 14.

4. He has friends in his class and/or siblings at home with similar symptoms, a.k.a. sick contacts.

5. School just started. She just started day care. It’s fall. It’s winter. Yippee.

Think seasonal allergies if ...

1. Your child is ITCHY. Itchy nose. Itchy (and usually, watery) eyes. Scratchy throat. Itching is the hallmark of allergies.

2. That “cold” just won’t go away. Your child is having chronic, coldlike symptoms lasting more than two weeks.

3. It’s a change of seasons. Fall anyone?

4. Your child has dark circles and fine lines under his eyes. No he didn’t stay up all night or get into a fist fight … he has allergic shiners. One of the classic hallmark signs of allergies. Another classic sign? A horizontal crease across the bridge of her nose from chronically performing the “allergic salute” a.k.a. wiping her nose upward with the palm of her hand to relieve nasal itching and wipe away mucus.

5. Your child is constantly clearing his throat and it’s driving you crazy. And the sneezing ... oh, the sneezing!

6. Symptoms come on suddenly and don’t go away until the offending allergen disappears.

Diagnostic tip: Got a toddler? Think cold first, allergies later. Why? Because it takes two to three seasons to become sensitized to particular allergens. That’s why allergies are pretty rare in the less-than-3 set.

Help for the runny noses, congestion and coughs

Remember: No over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children under 4. There is no proven efficacy or safety.

Lots you can do: cool mist humidifier, lots (and lots) of clear fluids, normal saline nose drops (in conjunction with a great nose sucker, think NoseFrida), and a little honey (for kids older than 1 year) are great ways to support your little one through a cold.

Always talk to your child’s health-care provider, if you suspect allergies, to find the best antihistamine, nose spray and/or eye drops to relieve allergy symptoms.

And, please always remember this … safety first.