Back-to-school pains and panics How to read the symptoms

Allergies Don't confuse them with a cold, which can come with a fever and a cough but doesn't last as long.

August 23, 1998|By Judith Forman | Judith Forman,SUN STAFF

When her daughter was an infant, Francine Jones of Randallstown noticed that the baby always had a cough and a runny nose. The pediatrician said it was just a cold, but Jones, a 44-year-old respiratory therapist with the University of Maryland medical system, thought otherwise.

"You don't stay up coughing all night with a cold," she said. "A cold goes away, but this never went away. We changed her pediatrician and found out she had asthma. When she was 2 years old, she started breaking out with hives from allergy-related things."

The daughter, Deanna Collins, now 10, and her sister Aisha Anderson, 21, both suffer from asthma and allergies to substances such as animal fur, trees and pollen. They use inhalers and allergy medication and visit an allergist every four months.

As the fall ragweed season descends upon Baltimore, parents may find themselves in Jones' position - trying to make the often-hard distinction between a child's allergies and the common cold.

According to Johns Hopkins Symptoms & Remedies home medical reference book, an allergy is an inflammation of mucous membranes in the nasal passages caused by a hypersensitive response of the immune system to an airborne irritant or allergen. A cold is a general term for a group of minor, highly contagious viral infections that cause inflammations of the mucous linings of the nose and throat.

Allergy symptoms include itchy, runny eyes, runny nose, itchy mouth, sneezing, red eyes and congestion, said Dr. Tim Shope, general pediatrician at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Congestion, runny nose and runny eyes can also be symptoms of a cold, but fever and cough are almost always limited to a cold.

As Jones suspected, the duration of the symptoms is also a clue, Shope said.

"Colds last five to 10 days at the longest while allergies may go on for weeks," Shope said. Also: "People with allergies get affected at the same time of the year - there's a seasonal nature to it."

Dr. Mary Beth Bollinger, director of allergy at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said a family history of allergies is a sign that a child's symptoms may be allergy-related.

She said that if one parent has allergies, a child's chances of having allergies are between 25 percent and 50 percent; if both have allergies, the figure increases to 75 percent.

To treat common allergy symptoms, she recommends consulting physician before giving a child an over-the-counter antihistamine.

If your child has allergies

Here are tips to help children avoid allergies, from Diane Schuller, a Hershey, Pa.-based pediatrician specializing in allergies and immunology:

* Pollen counts rise in the early evening and remain high through early morning. Keep windows closed and stay indoors when possible, especially on dry, windy days.

* Have children rinse their hair before bedtime if they have been outdoors. Pollen clings to hair.

* Do not hang clothes, sheets and towels outside to dry because they become contaminated with pollen and mold spores.

* Limit the number of indoor plants in your home; mold can grow in soil.

* Fallen leaves can carry mold spores. Avoid raking leaves or cutting grass near your children, and keep them from playing in leaf piles.

* Keep damp showers and bathrooms clean to reduce mold growth.

* Do not let children sit or lie on carpeted floor; dust and vacuum frequently. A good vacuum filter will increase the amount of particles captured. Remove carpeting if your child is allergic to dust mites. Carpet also holds animal dander from pets in the home.

* For indoor allergies, a high-efficiency particulate arrestor air filter can clean air in your home. Use a hydrometer to measure humidity indoors. Keep humidity around 40 percent using a humidifier in the dry winter months and a dehumidifier in the summer.

! Pub date: 8/23/98

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