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Little sneezes: Allergies in children

When parents have allergies, there's a good chance their children will too.

If a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes or cough seem to plague children at certain times of year, the culprit may be allergies.

Children are especially likely to have allergies if a parent does. And the risk is even higher if both parents are allergic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Is it an allergy or a cold?

When your child is coughing and sneezing, how can you tell if it's an allergy or a cold?

Colds typically last 5 to 10 days. They begin with a clear nasal discharge, which later becomes thick and yellow. Colds can be accompanied by fever.

Despite its name, hay fever does not cause a fever. The symptoms include runny nose; watery eyes; sneezing; and itching of the nose, eyes or skin. Allergies can last an entire season.

When do allergies develop?

Children may show the first signs of hay fever in elementary school.

Should you see an allergist?

If you suspect that your child has allergies, start by seeing your pediatrician. He or she can recommend treatment options and prescribe medications tailored to your child's needs. If medications are causing side effects or not working, your pediatrician may refer you to an allergist.

What does the allergist do?

The allergist will conduct a series of tests to figure out which allergens are causing your child's symptoms. An allergist may administer allergy shots, which contain small amounts of the offending pollens, molds or dust. Over time, these make your child less sensitive to the allergen.

What can you do?

The AAP offers these suggestions for reducing the allergy triggers in your home:

  • Keep windows closed during the pollen season. Pollen counts are higher on dry, windy days.
  • Keep the house clean and dry to reduce mold and dust mites.
  • Keep the house free of pets and indoor plants.
  • Keep your child away from smoke at home and in public.

Reviewed 12/6/2023

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