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Baby Allergy Vs. Baby Cold – How do You Tell the Difference?

 By Charlotte Wenham, Executive Director, pNeo LLC 

Your baby has gone from a happy, carefree, smiling and engaged being to sullen, moody and miserable. You figure your child’s stuffy nose, cough or sore throat is the cause, and it is just another cold. But as the days roll on, and there are no signs of improvement, your stress levels raise a few points and your mind begins to race. What the heck is this? Is it really a cold? Why is it hanging on? Obviously, you need to get to a doctor as soon as possible. To help your pediatrician make the best diagnosis (and give yourself a little peace of mind), it won’t hurt to take note of a few things you are observing or to alleviate some of the symptoms. 

To the untrained eye a cold and an allergy can be easily confused. This is because nasal allergies have almost identical symptoms to a common cold (like watery eyes, cough, nasal congestion, and sneezing). So, how do you know if your baby has a cold or symptoms related to an allergen? 

Well, the first place to start is your baby’s temperature. Colds are caused by a virus. Relative to allergies, viruses take a while to compromise the immune system. The symptoms tend to be progressive and then fade out once the body fight back. If a virus is present, there is likely a fever, (ranging in severity), and this is easily detected with a thermometer – not so with an allergy. Likewise, allergies don’t cause your body to have aches and pains. A cold will often leave a small child achy all over and lethargic. Unable to communicate effectively, the only way a baby can express its discomfort is by irritability and crying. 

There are two main causes of allergies with cold-like symptoms: environmental and seasonal. Allergies can hit hard in an instant. The immune system reacts as if the allergen was a dangerous invader and releases histamines to fight it off. Your baby’s defense mechanisms go into hyperdrive. One common symptom is a swelling of the lining of baby’s nose and constant running. This effect (officially named ‘Allergic Rhinitis’), is accompanied by post nasal drip. This irritates the throat and causes the baby to cough. The notable difference to watch for, is that allergic runny noses have mucus that is watery and constantly dripping, as opposed to a cold where it will generally be thick, cloudy and almost always yellow or greenish in color. Babies with allergies suffer persistent and prolonged stuffy runny noses. Babies with colds will have a blocked nose, but the symptoms will show gradual improvement usually (though not exclusively), within 2 weeks. 

Two indirect factors that could give you clues that your baby is having an allergic reaction are your baby’s age and family history. Seasonal allergies rarely affect babies under one year of age because they have not had enough exposure to the environment to develop an allergy. For hay fever to develop for example, they would usually need to have lived through a season or two of high pollen counts. Therefore, the timing and frequency of your baby’s symptoms are also tell-tale signs. 

Colds are very common in babies under one year old, while seasonal and environmental allergies caused by allergens that are breathed in aren’t. Colds last a week or two, and then your baby will be well for a while until the next time it is fighting a virus. Allergy symptoms will remain until the allergen is removed or disappears from your baby’s environment. 

Allergies are commonplace though in children after one year old. According to Parents Magazine*, by the time children are three years old, 20 percent of them have symptoms of upper respiratory allergies, and that number goes up to 42 percent by age six. 

Occasionally a baby has neither a cold nor allergies, but a respiratory infection caused by bacteria. Bacterial respiratory infections usually arise as secondary infections when baby’s respiratory system is already irritated by a cold or allergies. No matter what the cause, don’t try figuring it out without the help of a medical professional; especially if symptoms persist or are getting more severe, and/or are causing other things like moodiness, fatigue, headaches and general discomfort. There is no substitute for making an appointment with the pediatrician just to be sure you get a proper diagnosis and recommendations for kid-safe medications or treatments, so you can set about making your baby or toddler feel better as soon as possible. 

In the interim, because you baby can’t blow its nose, consider alleviating the symptoms effectively and safely with a nasal aspirator. CLEARinse, developed by an ER pediatrician who understands children and the importance of clearing a blocked nose, is a prime example. CLEARinse has been proven to reduce congestion caused by allergies like pollen and dust, environmental pollution and dry air, cold/ flu, sinusitis and post nasal drip, and pregnancy rhinitis. What’s more, this device meets the American Respiratory Council’s guidelines for safe negative pressure, along with effective flow. Unlike snot suckers, CLEARinse provides controlled suction and tackles hardened snot as well. In addition, you won’t be at risk of inhaling aerosolized viruses and becoming sick yourself as a direct result of helping your child. Better yet, CLEARinse is not just for baby. CLEARinse is suitable for all ages from birth. 

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what causes the symptoms. The baby feels the same way regardless… miserable. Take note of all that you see and share with your pediatrician at the earliest opportunity. 

Ref: Ehrlich, P. (2004, April. Updated 2010, February. Q&A on Children’s Allergies. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/health/allergies/food/childrens-allergies/ 

About the author: 

Charlotte Wenham is the co-founder of pNeo, a Dallas-based brand accelerator. pNeo’s grass roots are in product design and consulting. By bridging the gap between products and consumers, pNeo has a solid reputation for high quality, innovative products that serve a real-world purpose. 

Charlotte has a master’s degree in nursing and her professional life began as an ER nurse, working in the busiest ER in Australia. She has channeled this experience into to making each day better for her community and this guides her decisions. pNeo specializes in juvenile and consumer healthcare products, drawing on the team’s real-world understanding as parents and healthcare professionals. 

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