Does Your Toddler Have Allergies or a Cold? Here's What to Look For

With their increasing curiosity and loquaciousness, toddlers are usually a joy to raise. But when they start feeling miserable with symptoms like a runny nose, a cough, and a sore throat, it can be stressful for parents and hard to diagnose what’s wrong.

With many symptoms in common, it can be difficult to tell the difference between colds and allergies in young children. According to board-certified pediatrician and allergy specialist Rainilda Valencia, MD, it’s important to learn to distinguish the two conditions, which require different treatments to restore your toddler’s health.

Dr. Valencia of Valencia Pediatrics in Victorville, California, explains how to tell if your child has a common cold or allergies, and how to treat both conditions.

What are colds and allergies?

The common cold is a virus of the upper respiratory system which causes symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, sore throat, and general low-level feelings of unwellness. Typically, toddlers with a cold start to feel better within a couple of weeks.

Allergies are caused when your toddler’s immune system overreacts to usually harmless elements, such as pollen, pet dander, mold, and insect bites. Allergy symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose, range from mild to life-threatening. Allergy symptoms usually continue until you remove the allergen or receive treatment.

How can I tell the difference between colds and allergies in toddlers?

While the common cold and allergy symptoms overlap, there are also some key differences. If you’re not sure which condition your toddler has, asking yourself these questions will help.

How quickly did your toddler’s symptoms start?

Usually, allergy symptoms come on suddenly, when your young child is exposed to the triggering allergen. Cold symptoms often start more gradually.

How long has your toddler been sick?

Toddlers with allergies can show symptoms for long periods of time, such as the entire springtime season if they’re allergic to pollen. Cold symptoms, on the other hand, usually resolve within two weeks.

Does your toddler have a fever?

The common cold sometimes comes with a low-grade fever as the virus runs its course. Your toddler won’t typically have a fever with allergies.

Does your toddler have watery eyes?

Many allergic reactions can make your toddler’s eyes watery, itchy, and red in appearance. These aren’t usually cold symptoms.

What does your toddler’s nasal discharge look like?

Toddlers with allergies and colds both get a nasal discharge, but the appearance and quality varies. With allergies, nasal discharge is usually clear and thin, while with colds it tends to be yellow or green and thick in consistency.

What season is it?

During the spring, summer, and any time the seasons are changing, toddlers are more likely to get allergies. In winter, the odds are higher your toddler has a cold.

When should I seek treatment for my toddler?

If you suspect your toddler has a cold, the vast majority of the time you can manage the symptoms at home while your child’s cold resolves. Make an appointment to see our team at Valencia Pediatrics if your young child’s condition doesn’t improve after a couple of weeks or if your toddler develops a high fever.

If you think your toddler might have allergies, it’s important to make an appointment with Dr. Valencia. Allergy treatment from a pediatrician will allow your child to manage potentially life-disrupting and life-threatening symptoms.

At your appointment, Dr. Valencia performs allergy testing to determine what materials are causing your child’s allergies if you aren’t certain. Then, Dr. Valencia develops a personalized plan to manage your toddler’s allergies.

Dr. Valencia, with Micaela Marin-Tucker, PA-C and Megan Reynolds, C-PNP, offers specialized allergy treatment along with general pediatric care to children and adolescents. Call our office today to schedule allergy testing and management for your child.

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