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Is it a cold or allergies? Tips for parents

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Is it a cold or something more?

Is it a cold or allergies? Should you keep them home from school or do they just need an allergy treatment? If little Katie or Johnny is sniffling like there's no tomorrow, many parents are confused as to what to do. Find out the difference between cold symptoms and allergy symptoms, how to strengthen your child's immune symptom, pinpoint the cause of the allergic reaction and help them feel better.

Mother tending to sick child

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America states that allergies are diseases of the immune system that cause an overreaction to substances called "allergens." Allergies are grouped by a typical trigger, such as time of year or where symptoms appear on the body. For instance, there's indoor and outdoor allergies, food and drug allergies, skin allergies and eye allergies, to name a few.

About one in every five adults and children have allergies. Get this – about eighty percent of children with asthma also have allergies. So, how do you know if your kid has allergies or is just sniffling away a cold?

Allergy symptoms vs. Cold symptoms

According to Teresa Holler, MSPA-C of TheHolisticOption.com and author of Holler for Your Health: Be the Key to a Healthy Family, allergies may be present with traditional symptoms of runny noses, sinus congestion and itchy eyes and throat or as a skin rash. "More subtle signs include irritability, headaches or an upset stomach, which are common with food sensitivities. Unfortunately, symptoms may not occur immediately upon exposure to an allergen or irritant (perhaps a day later) making it difficult to determine the culprit."

Pediatricians say it can be hard to distinguish the difference between a cold and allergies, especially since the average 2-year-old gets 8-12 colds a year.  "The common uncomplicated cold should generally last about 7-10 days, whereas "allergic" noses tend to be runny for weeks. Allergic runny noses may also be more seasonal (for instance, pollen allergies tend to worsen in the spring and the fall). Allergic children tend to have other associated symptoms such as watery or itchy eyes, or occasionally eczema (a dry skin condition)."

Click here to find out how to make your child feel better when they have the common cold.

The gene factor

While children seem to be more vulnerable to allergies than adults, it should be noted allergies are also a genetic thing. That's right – if both parents have allergies, their biological child has a seventy-five percent chance of allergies, too! If only one parent is allergic or if relatives on one side of the family have allergies, the child has a fifty percent chance of developing allergies.

Genetics aside, it's important to watch for symptoms in your child. Dr. Eric Schenkel, a board-certified specialist in pediatric and adult allergy and immunology, says overall once you notice recurring symptoms that last a few weeks such as sinus or ear infections, it's time to see a doctor. The physician will ask about the family's history, do a physical and conduct certain allergy tests.

Keep in mind a head cold gets better in three to four days so if symptoms persist, it's time to see a doctor.  In the summer especially when pollen counts are high, he recommends staying indoors, limiting exposures to pets, watching the dust and mold spores and keep in mind the reality of the world thanks to global warming. "Allergy season starts earlier and lasts longer," he says. 

How to treat allergies in kids

So whatcha gonna do when it comes to helping out your kid if they truly do have allergies? Teresa advises limiting their exposure to substances that may damage the gut lining such as stomach medications and antibiotics.

"Second, restore the normal beneficial bacteria to the gut using high quality probiotics, and digestive enzymes. L- glutamine is often used as well, but may worsen hyperactivity in kids with a certain genetic mutation. (You can try this, but stop it if your child becomes hyper or irritable) Lastly, I have heard reports that local (within 50 miles) honey may help. I haven't read any scientific studies to support this, but it worked for me!" Of course, make sure your child is over the age of 1 before you give them honey.

Above all, be smart. Dr. Schenkel also recommends being vigilant with your home and the environment. This means reducing mold and dust by limiting exposure to them, keeping pets out of the home and staying indoors and cranking the a/c in particular on high pollen count days.

And if your child was prescribed medicine, be sure they take it. He notes, "Make sure your kids are actually taking the medicine."

Leaky gut

In addition to identifying allergies, Teresa says it's also the opportunity discover the underlying imbalance that has led to them. For instance, more often than not allergies stem from a leaky gut. "Once you heal a leaky gut," she says, "allergy symptoms will often abate."

What is a leaky gut? A leaky gut does not properly absorb nutrients, and as a result can lead to symptoms of bloating, gas, cramps, fatigue, headaches, memory loss, poor concentration of irritability. Healing of the gut is being seen in individuals who have gluten and casein eliminated from their diets.

Read more on this condition, including how to test for it here.

For more on your child's health

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