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Allergies Vs. Viruses – Which One Does Your Child Have?

Allury Arora Lal, MD, Pediatrician and Chief Medical Officer of Urgent Care for Children

Sneezing, sore throat, watery eyes, and sinus and head congestion. Is it fall allergies or a virus? Pre-Covid, we understood that fall allergies presented with these symptoms as pollen levels and other allergens increased with the changes of season. We also expected that late fall/early winter would bring about the common viruses such as rhinoviruses (the common cold), stomach and intestinal viruses, respiratory illnesses such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and the bigger players in the disease spectrum such as flu.

But then 2020 hit, and hit us hard, introducing us to the novel coronavirus – what we now know as Covid – adding another illness to the long line of viruses to worry over. In the Covid era, when a child presents with symptoms such as nasal congestion and a sore throat, we now not only evaluate for allergies or other viruses like the common cold, but we must also assess and test for Covid. It’s become a standard in the healthcare setting, taking precautionary measures to ensure children receive the right treatment for exactly what ails them.

Differentiating Between Allergies and Viruses

Is it a seasonal allergy or a virus? How do parents tell the difference?

Viruses:

  • Nasal and throat symptoms are overlapping but viral illnesses typically include fever.
  • Viral symptoms also include low energy, achiness, and loss of appetite.
  • A cold or another similar virus typically lasts around five to seven days.
  • Over-the-counter medications such as fever reducers and decongestants can help with symptoms.*

Allergies

  • While seasonal allergies share some of the symptoms of a virus, they are an immune response triggered by environmental factors such as elevated pollen and are not an infection.
  • Seasonal allergies do not cause fever or body aches.
  • Seasonal allergies can last for several weeks to more than a month, depending on factors such as exposure to pollen and other irritants.
  • Antihistamines are often helpful in minimizing allergic responses.*

*Children should be evaluated by a pediatrician before starting any medication, including over-the-counter.

While these are all general indications of viruses and allergies, the human body doesn’t always follow the textbook. It’s not uncommon for a child to have a viral illness and experience allergy symptoms at the same time, especially in the fall and spring when seasonal allergies are heightened. Having a pediatric provider evaluate your child is important to determine whether symptoms are caused by seasonal allergies or a virus.

When a child is experiencing symptoms (cough, congestion, fever, sore throat, decreased energy, loss of appetite, etc.) a pediatrician or pediatric nurse practitioner can guide parents on the best way to care for their child. This may include the proper medications and doses to administer, recommendations on fluid intake, education on the best ways to help alleviate symptoms, as well as guidance on CDC recommendations for vaccinations (flu and/or Covid) and boosters. If the child has a fever, they will usually be tested for flu and/or Covid, which is performed in the urgent care center.

Keep in mind that many kids have been masked over the last couple of years. With mask mandates lifted and life returning to pre-Covid routines, children’s immune systems have taken a big hit, leaving them more susceptible to the viruses that were circulating in communities well before Covid. If your child has symptoms of a virus or seasonal allergy, the pediatric providers at Urgent Care for Children are available to assess and care for them 365 days a year. Our goal is to get your children back to health as quickly as possible.

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