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posted: 3/31/2018 7:30 AM

Is it a cold or seasonal allergies? Tips for knowing -- and coping

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  • Viruses cause common colds, but seasonal allergies are triggered by the immune system's reaction to allergens like mold spores and pollens.

    Viruses cause common colds, but seasonal allergies are triggered by the immune system's reaction to allergens like mold spores and pollens.
    Courtesy of Lurie Children's Hospital

  • Dr. Tim Brown, a physician in the Division of Allergy & Immunology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago

    Dr. Tim Brown, a physician in the Division of Allergy & Immunology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago

 
Submitted by Lurie Children’s Hospital

The start of spring means it's time to cue the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun"-- and an endless circuit of sneezes. But how to know whether you're suffering from a cold or seasonal allergies?

First, pay attention to your symptoms. A fever, aches and pains are clear symptoms of a cold, while seasonal allergies typically present with milder symptoms like sneezing, congestion and a runny nose.

Viruses cause common colds, but seasonal allergies are triggered by the immune system's reaction to allergens like mold spores and pollens. For this reason, seasonal allergies are often exacerbated in the spring when warmer temperatures drive up mold and pollen counts. Congestion, itchy or swollen eyes and fatigue are just a few of the symptoms that may present.

Treatment options

If you find yourself with a common cold, treatment may include rest, pain relievers, decongestants and other over-the-counter cold remedies.

Treatments for seasonal allergies vary more broadly. Most treatments available for children with allergies are safe and well-tolerated, according to Dr. Tim Brown, a physician in the Division of Allergy & Immunology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Before seeking medical help, Dr. Brown recommends trying preventive measures at home.

"A key to minimizing allergy symptoms is to reduce exposure to the molds and pollens that trigger them," Brown says. Keeping the windows closed at home and in the car, minimizing time outdoors during high pollen counts and showering before bed are just a few measures he recommends.

Over-the-counter treatments like antihistamines taken by mouth, steroid or antihistamine nasal sprays, and eye drops can treat various symptoms. To decide which medication can work best for your child, Brown recommends consulting your pediatrician or seeing an allergist.

What can allergists do?

"The allergist can help determine what allergies a patient has by performing skin testing (the preferred method) or blood testing for allergies," Brown says. "Determining a patient's allergy profile can help refine treatment options and empower the patient to better care for their allergies."

"For patients who are not responding to treatment, allergy shots can be prescribed by an allergist," Brown says. "These shots can, over time, reduce the severity of a patient's allergies and often have a long lasting effect in the majority of patients undergoing this treatment. There are also some recently approved medications for allergy desensitization that can be given by mouth. However, at the present time, these are only approved for grass and ragweed allergies. Studies for other allergies are ongoing."

Spring is meant to be enjoyed. When seasonal allergies are under control, the forecast is all fun.

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Lurie Children's Hospital. For additional information, visit luriechildrens.org.

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