Is it a Cold, the Flu or Allergies?

In Western PA, this year’s winter hasn’t seemed too severe compared to past seasons. While the mild temperatures we’ve been experiencing are a nice reprieve from the usual bitter cold and snow, these bursts of warmer weather can cause molds to begin growing, trees, grass and flowers to begin pollinating and, ultimately, allergy symptoms to start earlier – overlapping allergy season with the end of cold and flu season.

When everyone is sniffling, sneezing and generally feeling yucky, how can you tell if the symptoms your child is experiencing are the result of allergies, a cold or something more serious, like the flu?

Colds and Flu

Both colds and the flu are caused by viruses, with symptoms of the flu being more severe than those experienced with a cold. With both, your child may complain of a stuffy, runny nose along with a sore throat, cough and congestion. The biggest difference between the two is that, with the flu, your child will also experience a high fever that lasts for 3 or 4 days, along with headaches, fatigue and body aches. Colds and flu generally last no more than 2 weeks, but if symptoms persist for more than 10 days, you should contact your CCP pediatrician.


Allergies are not caused by a virus. Instead, allergies are your immune system reacting to a trigger, also known as an allergen. If your child has allergies and breathes in an allergen like pollen or pet dander, the immune cells in his or her nose and airways can overreact, causing the delicate respiratory tissue to swell and resulting in a stuffy or runny nose, as well as itchy, watery eyes. Seasonal allergies will suddenly arise once an allergen is present and tend to last as long as someone is exposed to that allergen, sometimes weeks or months.

With temperatures and weather constantly changing, sometimes from hour to hour, and cold and flu season still in full swing, it’s important to keep an eye on any symptoms your child may be experiencing. You and your pediatrician can then choose the appropriate treatment for your child.

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